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personal finance

Get this message over to airlines … stop passing the buck over refunds


I booked Virgin Atlantic flights to the US through Opodo and have been told I must accept a voucher rather than a refund. I am a 71-year-old widow and do not know if I will be fit enough to travel in 2021. I am in lockdown because of my age and health, and am in tears of frustration at the number of times I have tried to contact Opodo and Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic tells me I should obtain a refund from Opodo and Opodo tells me it is contacting Virgin Atlantic on my behalf, but I receive no information from either. Now the telephone number for Opodo is no longer available.

SP, Manchester

Nearly all the complaints in my inbox are about travel, and the dominant theme is the inability of passengers to get through to the travel agents who booked their flights.

Admittedly, companies accustomed to doing almost all their business online are struggling to accommodate the deluge of phone calls with a reduced workforce.

Opodo has gone a step further and withdrawn its phone number and email address altogether. All too few of them – and Opodo is the exception here – inform passengers that they have the right to approach the airline directly for a refund under EU Denied Boarding Regulations.

Airlines, meanwhile, are passing the buck back to the agents, some of whom deduct a fee from the refund for their trouble.

MW of Watford is in the same situation as you, as Opodo told her (correctly) to request a refund from Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Atlantic sent her (incorrectly) back to Opodo.

“It does not look as if I will even obtain a voucher to be able to rebook the flight at a later date, due to my inability to contact Opodo. The flights cost £2,000 which is a lot of money to lose,” she writes.

Opodo customer AH of Golfe-Juan, France was referred to Singapore International Airlines for his £2,500 refund, but the airline has insisted he claim via Opodo.

Coby Benson of law firm Bott and Co confirms: “If an airline cancels a flight it is obliged to provide a full refund within seven days, or a free replacement flight. The law is clear that the refund must be provided by the airline that was going to operate the flight, and not the company that sold the flight (eg, a travel agent).

Virgin Atlantic seems worryingly unaware of this responsibility. It tells us: “Where a customer with a cancelled flight has booked via a third-party agent, we would advise them to approach the company that sold the original trip in the first instance, to request their refund. Virgin Atlantic works in partnership with travel agents to process refunds but with a huge volume of requests, this is taking longer than usual.”

It claims customers’ contracts are with the agent, not the airline. This is untrue. Opodo’s terms and conditions, like other booking platforms, make clear that the customer’s contract is with the travel provider. “While the contract is between the customer and travel supplier, as detailed in our T&Cs, we help our customers where possible with their cancellation and refund requests following the latest guidance from airlines,” it says. “During the current situation airline policies are changing rapidly and we are seeing customers re-directed to us.”

Singapore International Airlines was contacted for a comment. SP was refunded shortly after the Observer got in touch. Others who are fobbed off by airlines should put their request in writing citing the EU Denied Boarding Regulations.

No quibble, these firms are doing the right thing

While some companies are exploiting customers in the struggle to survive the pandemic, others are making impressive sacrifices to do the right thing. JB of Burnley applauds Adagio (a branch of Ramblers Holidays) for their prompt and no quibble refund for their cancelled holiday which contrasted with the refusal of many travel firms to return customers’ money.

Jet2 Holidays has been praised by DW of Glasgow and by many reviewers on Trustpilot. “When our holiday was cancelled we were given the choice of rebooking or a voucher. Otherwise they would contact us,” he writes. “I was dubious, but got a phone call two weeks later and when I asked for a refund was promised, with no argument, that it would arrive in seven working days. It actually appeared within three. I hope we will all remember how companies treated their customers and staff in this crisis.”

LS of London was also unable to accept a voucher for her cancelled trip to Japan. “Trailfinders started the refund paperwork immediately and they call to keep us posted as we await the air fare element from the airline,” she writes. “Other holiday companies should take note.”

And finally …

After I reported on an NHS worker whose new bike was faulty, I was contacted by the managing director of Condor Cycles and a supervisor at Evans Cycles, both in London and neither of which were the original suppliers, offering a free repair.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions



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