Europe is flying again
On 15th June 2020 the skies of Europe opened up. EU countries reopened their land borders with neighbouring fellow EU members. With only a few exceptions, most notably the border with Spain and Portugal, we can safely say that post-COVID European airlines are now back in business.
This will come as welcome news to many and a relief to many more who rely on tourism directly or indirectly as their source of income. Millions of UK citizens who stoically bore the brunt of lockdown will be setting their eyes on southern climes for some fun in the sun after months of gloom.
Customer refunds still a huge issue
But there are still some clouds on the horizon. Millions of passengers had their flights cancelled because of nationwide travel bans, in accordance with emergency procedures to combat the spread of COVID-19 from March to June this year. In Europe, all of these passengers are entitled to a full ticket refund under EU and national law, something airlines fought long and hard against.
Airlines took the initiative and starting inventing ways of avoiding ticket refunds for all their cancelled flights. Travel vouchers became the new crypto currency of the major airlines. Eventually the European Union had to step in and on May 13 2002, the European Commission confirmed that Airlines must issue passengers refunds for cancelled flights and that passengers cannot be forced to accept travel vouchers in lieu of money back.
Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC (The European Consumer Organisation) said, “COVID-19 is putting consumers under enormous financial strain. Their right to reimbursement for cancelled travel is more important than ever. However, we’ve seen countless examples of airlines and travel companies undermining consumers’ rights by trying to push people to accept vouchers. Moreover, consumers should not be forced by governments to pick up the bill to bail out the travel industry. We need solutions that protect both the travel industry and consumer rights, without which consumer confidence in the travel industry could be permanently damaged.”
This, of course, was fabulous news for customers, however not many airlines were happy to comply. The reason for this is not hard to see, IATA’s regional vice-president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman recently stated that European airlines owe $10 billion back to customers for cancelled flights.
How do airline refund policies rate?
Major airlines are often not too worried about bending the rules when it comes to customer service. Let us now take a more detailed view of the major European airlines and see how their different refund policies for flights cancelled because of Coronavirus rate for passengers:
Europe’s largest airline is also the airline with the longest queues for refunds. Boss, Michael O’Leary recently told the BBC that they had a backlog of 25 million refunds to process and this had to be done with a reduced staff. The staffing cuts were stated to have been necessary for the future survival of the company, but conveniently this also means longer queues and the prospective of seeing your money back anytime in the next 6 months is low.
Like most airlines Ryanair encourages passengers with flight cancellations to first choose an alternate flight, this can be done via their website free of charge. Many passengers are satisfied with this option as it makes it easier to change any other options such as car hire, or airport tickets, checked in luggage, etc., that were also purchased with the ticket.
Ryanair does offer a “full refund” option, however getting a satisfactory response is not an open and shut case. Thousands of passengers have claimed that when they demanded a full refund they were instead sent vouchers and these even included details on how to apply for a cash refund!
Dealing with Ryanair customer service is never for the faint hearted, so we recommend changing your flight, or accepting vouchers if it suits and you plan to fly again soon. If you have your heart set on a refund, as is your right, we recommend that you contact a professional company like GIVT that deals directly with airlines regarding flight compensation and refunds.
Wizz Air does not specifically offer a full refund, instead you can rebook another flight free of charge within 14 days before or 60 days after the scheduled date of departure of the original flight, subject to availability of seats.
Alternately you can get the equivalent of a travel voucher credited to your WIZZ online account. An extra +20% of the ticket price is added as a bonus, which can be used purchase future Wizz Air flights and services.
They do say that customer can “later” be able to request the 100% ticket refund back to your original payment method instead of WIZZ credits without the extra 20%.
If you are intending to travel soon, this seems like a good deal, however If you just want a refund we recommend that you contact a professional company like GIVT that deals directly with airlines regarding flight compensation and refunds.
Europe’s 2nd biggest airline in numbers of passengers, unlike competitor low fares airlines seems to be trying to refund passengers in an orderly manner. The refund application process is explained in clear language in an easy to follow manner on their website. The option of a rebooking is also given, but not insisted upon, as it appears to be with other airlines.
According to Lufthansa customers on Tripadvisor.com refunds are taking around 2 months to process, because of the backlog of requests.
We recommend using Lufthansa’s online refund request service, but do not hesitate to contact them if you feel that your refund is not being processed in a timely manner.
LOT – Polish Airlines
LOT has cancelled their flights until 30 June 2020, and acknowledges this on their “rebooking and refund” page. The airline offers different options to passengers with the first option being a travel voucher.
Vouchers are valid for 12 months and can be used a new flight within that period. If the new flight is cheaper a new voucher will be issued for the difference in cost. Additionally, the voucher is transferable making it a more tempting offer for some passengers.
Passengers who opt for a change of flight date can avail of a 30% discount on their next future flight with LOT within 12 months. This option may be of interest to frequent fliers on the LOT network.
Lastly, passengers may apply for a refund using an online application system. There has been some criticism from customers on Trip Advisor of this method, however, as each leg of each flight for each passenger must be completed on a separate form, and refunds are not as forthcoming as with Lufthansa for example.
We recommend using LOT’s online refund request service, despite its drawbacks. Please do contact them if you feel that your refund is not being processed in a timely manner.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines offers customers 3 options on their website. As ever customers are offered a free of charge rebooking offer. KLM also offers a travel voucher option with an up to 15% bonus applicable for new flights booked before 31 October 2020.
Lastly KLM clearly offers a cash refund option. This forwards customers to their Refunds Processing System which can be navigated quickly and easily. It appears that refunds are taking approximately 8 weeks to process, much longer than the 7 days required by law, and refund requests can be tracked on their website.
We recommend using KLM’s online refund request service, despite the waiting period. Please contact them to expedite your refund if you feel that it is not being processed in a timely manner.
SAS – Scandinavian Airlines
Joint Danish, Norwegian and Swedish SAS offers customers the option of a travel voucher valid for 12 months from the date of issue, after which it is refundable. Vouchers are transferrable and can be used for other passengers.
Voucher value can be used piecemeal over the 12 month period with any remaining balance refundable upon expiry. SAS also offers a ticket refund option which is operated via customers’ online SAS account.
We recommend using SAS’s online refund request service, however if you are not a registered customer or feel that it is not being processed in a timely manner do not hesitate to contact them directly.
Sister company to KLM, Air France offers customers similar refund options on their website. As ever customers are offered a free of charge rebooking offer. Air France also offers a travel voucher option with an up to 15% bonus applicable for new flights booked before 31 October 2020.
Air France also offers a cash refund option. This forwards customers to their refunds page which can be navigated quickly and easily. Additionally, Air France allows customers to personally cancel flights. While this exempts customers from a cash refund, they are permitted a travel voucher with the 15% bonus scheme as above.
We recommend using Air France’s online refund request service, however in this case we recommend contacting them regularly to check on the update of your claim. If you feel that your query is being ignored we recommend that you contact a professional company like GIVT that deals directly with airlines regarding flight compensation and refunds.
Polish charter flight airline Enter Air has no information available on its website about Coronavirus cancellations, refunds or rebooking.
We recommend contacting the company with which your ticket was purchased first before contacting Enter Air themselves. Should you feel that your query is being ignored we recommend that you contact a professional company like GIVT that deals directly with airlines regarding flight compensation and refunds.
Smartwings and its subsidiaries only offer a free of charge change of date of reservation option, there is no mention of any refund option on their website.
We recommend that passengers seeking a refund should first contact Smartwings directly asking for a refund. Should this prove to be less than satisfactory, then we recommend that you contact a professional company like GIVT that deals directly with airlines regarding flight compensation and refunds.