Huge airlines, small tricks, a big problem. Don’t let the airlines bamboozle you out of your money back for a canceled flight. Even during a pandemic, refunds are a basic right for all passengers.
Who is affected by this problem?
The aviation industry literally came to a halt in March this year and has not taken off again since. The number of flights decreased by almost 90%. The vast majority of passengers who had bought tickets for this period are having trouble getting their money back. However, it should not be up to customers to finance the airlines’ problems with money for services not given. This is an unprecedented situation. The estimated number of passengers affected by cancellations in Europe is already over 200 million. In Poland alone, this number may be as high as 10 million. To help better visualize the scale of the problem, GIVT, a company specializing in helping passengers recover money for canceled and delayed flights, has prepared some easy to follow infographics.
How does COVID-19 affect passenger rights?
Laws, including EU law, are pro-consumer in principle. Nothing has changed in this respect. Aviation market expert Jacek Podoba, CEO of GIVT says: “According to the regulations generally applicable in Poland and the EU, airlines are obliged to refund customers for unrealized tickets. No exceptions like bad weather, force majeure due to pandemic, or safety issues apply in this case. Regardless of the reason for cancellation, as with any other unfurnished service, passengers should be entitled to cash refunds. What’s more, airlines are required to refund the money within 7 days of an application being made”.
This position, despite enormous pressure from airlines in recent weeks, was firmly confirmed by the European Commission in its recommendations published on 13 May 2020. Similar situations have arisen in other countries. In the US, for example, due to similar pressures from airlines, Congress has passed legislation to provide passengers with a guaranteed refund for unused paid flights.
The current situation caused by the deep crisis in the aviation industry has led to airlines evading their responsibilities. The problem has become so widespread that passengers now see this as the acceptable standard, despite the fact that airlines are not complying with their obligations as regulated by individual countries and the European Union.
It is understandable that airlines are trying to cover their financial situation, but it should not be the passengers who foot this bill, especially since the vast majority of airlines have received billions of Euro in state support paid for by the taxpayer.
Until now obtaining a refund for a canceled flight was not a major problem, and bookings could be readily changed to other dates. In recent months, however, this new phenomenon has affected hundreds of millions of travelers and caused airlines to start using unprecedented practices, often barely within the bounds of the law, aimed at evading refunding passengers for Coronavirus canceled flights.
Below is a list of the most common ways airlines are avoiding refunds. The list, prepared by GIVT, is a summary of the current situation based on data from affected passengers all over Europe.
- Vouchers as a cash substitute. Many airlines resort to offering vouchers as the only form of compensation for canceled flights. This offer is often presented as a refund, but in practice is nothing of the sort. Passengers are not obliged to accept travel vouchers, having the full right to demand a cash refund, if desired.
- Misleading customers. This is the most common practice among airlines. An example of this is incomplete communication, which avoids offering cash refunds as a basic passenger right. Do not be surprised if your airline sends a message about your canceled flight with an option to change the flight dates or offering a voucher in lieu, without mention of a refund.
- Prolonged refund procedures. Some airlines make passengers choose an option that looks set to be full of problems before getting a refund. One of the largest budget airlines explicitly announced that refunds will take up to 6 months to obtain whereas travel vouchers are available immediately. In addition, there are difficulties in contacting airline helpdesks, which has become a method to increase the number of refund applications and cut staff. We can understand the airlines’ problems, but this is no reason for them to break the rules! Would airlines have a similar problem if passengers wanted to buy tickets in bulk? Airlines have never reported problems accepting cash for their services. On the other hand, however, they are now faced with a huge “operational” challenge. Do not accept any prolongations, if the airline does not refund the ticket within 7 days, passengers are entitled to statutory interest, which is also not mentioned by any airline.
- Threatening passengers with blacklisting. From the experiences of customers with a specific airline, we learned that in response to their complaints and refusal to accept vouchers, they were threatened by the airline that their attitude could get them “blacklisted”. What is this ominous list? It is for people who have committed fraud against the airline. In this particular case, it was about getting a “chargeback”, a credit card refund by the bank for a canceled transaction.
- Topping up a virtual account. Another method used by the airlines, instead of refunds, is to transfer virtual funds to passengers’ accounts, using the airline’s own virtual currency. This occurs without the passenger’s knowledge. Remember that this does not preclude you from applying for a cash refund.
- Increasing voucher values. Increasing the value of the voucher relative to the original ticket price is the most honest way of convincing customers to accept compensation, provided that the airline also openly offers cash refunds. In this way, customers can choose between a cash refund and a higher voucher value.
- Manipulating new ticket prices. For some rebooking offers using travel vouchers we found cases of price manipulation. Check to see if a date change ticket is the same cost as a regular flight with your airline. This may be harder to ascertain with flights further in the future. How can we know now if a €100 refund today will be worth more or less than €100 at some unknown future date?
What should you not do?
- Do not accept any other form of a refund, e.g. a voucher, if you have not agreed to it. Receiving a travel voucher by email or even information about a virtual top-up of account credit does not equate to acceptance.
- You always have the right to demand a cash refund. Do not sign or complete any forms that indicate acceptance of any offer. By accepting you waive the right to any further claims.
- Do not cancel a flight yourself that is or was to be canceled because of air traffic restrictions. Hold off deciding until you know whether the airline will cancel the flight themselves. This can be used as a pretext to not refund tickets. Some airlines will even charge for a customer cancellation even though the flight was canceled due to COVID-19.
Airlines use these very misleading practices to count on discouraging customers from asking for cash refunds. In these cases, we advise that you seek the help of a company that deals professionally with airline customer support.
What should you do? Where to go for help?
Remember your rights. Refer to EU regulations guaranteeing the right to a refund for canceled flights in all correspondence. Only accept a voucher if the offer satisfies you.
If you are having difficulty contacting your airline or have encountered the practices above, you should use the services of a company that deals professionally with passenger rights.
How airlines avoid cash payouts
- Vouchers instead of cash
- Misleading customers
- Prolonging the refund procedure
- Threatening passengers with blacklisting
- Topping up virtual accounts
- Increasing voucher values
- Manipulating new ticket prices
What you shouldn’t do
- Do not accept vouchers received by email or virtual transfer of funds to your account
- Do not sign or complete any forms which may confirm resignation from any further claims against the airline
- Do not cancel your flight personally, it may be used as a pretext avoid a refund
What you should do
- Remember your rights. Refer to EU regulations guaranteeing the right to a refund for canceled flights in all correspondence
- Only accept a voucher if the offer satisfies you
- Use the services of a company that deals professionally with passenger rights