Passengers who have had flights cancelled during the coronavirus lockdown have been left fuming as airlines put up barriers to cash refunds they are entitled to.
Many customers are waiting to receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds from airlines and travel firms who have cancelled trips thanks to the ongoing pandemic.
Yet, they are discovering that airlines have pulled their online cash refund option and are instead pushing them to take vouchers or swap flights instead.
Many passengers have claimed they are unable to get through to airlines to get a cash refund
Since This is Money revealed EasyJet and BA removed their cash refund button online, asking customers instead to call up for their money back, complaints have flooded in about how long they’re being made to wait on the phone.
Meanwhile, many say that waiting on the phone isn’t even an option, as they have repeatedly called EasyJet and can’t even get into a queue.
Instead customers are encountering a recorded message on the EasyJet line, telling them lines are very busy and they need to call back another time.
We have been contacted by a raft of passengers complaining about their treatment. One reader, Carly, said she is still waiting for a massive £6,000 refund from Tui after cancelling her trip to Jamaica.
She said: ‘My husband is self-employed and currently cannot work. We are relying on this money to pay bills going forward.
‘I am so angry that they seem like they are holding on to our money unnecessarily when many people will be needing it desperately.’
Another reader, Ed, said he has spent over ten hours on the phone trying to get a cash refund from EasyJet and has called three days in a row without success.
Ed said: ‘I vow to call EasyJet every day for the rest of the year to get my money back, but more importantly for them, I will never be using their services again.’
Easyjet has grounded all of its flights this week whilst its customers struggle to get refunds
Another reader, Nathalie, said that after hours of waiting on the phone to the airline, she was told by the customer service agent that EasyJet was on ‘lockdown’ and a refund could not yet be provided. She was instead advised to call back in 28 days’ time.
I can’t even get through to EasyJet
Simon Lambert: Not on a snowboard holiday, this Easter
I should have been flying to Geneva today with my family to then head to France for an Easter snowboarding and skiing holiday, writes This is Money editor Simon Lambert.
When France, Switzerland and then Britain went into coronavirus lockdown that clearly wasn’t going to be happening.
EasyJet continued to maintain my flights were going ahead though, and on the day that it grounded its entire fleet it even emailed me to encourage us to check in online.
The next day it cancelled the outward flight and then yesterday it cancelled the flight home.
Online it will only offer me either the chance to rebook flights or take a voucher.
I have no travel plans that I need new flights for – and wouldn’t be able to book for next Easter, as the schedule doesn’t go that far ahead – and nor do I want vouchers for the same reason.
None of this is EasyJet’s fault, but I do want my £455 back.
I cannot get through on the phone though and every time I have called over the past week or so, have encountered the same ‘we are busy, call back’ message.
Times are tough for airlines, but EasyJet is a major stock market listed company and its actions stand in stark contrast with the small business owner of the apartment we had booked, who refunded us in full and said they hoped to see us next year instead.
The airlines are struggling, but they need to work a better system out – with Abta’s refund credit notes one possible idea.
She said: ‘I will have to go through the pain of trying to contact them again and hope that they will accept to give me a refund. It did feel like they are trying to avoid refunding customers at the moment.’
What is frustrating many customers in particular is the fact that EasyJet and BA previously had the online option of a cash refund but have removed it amid the crisis.
One reader, Stephen, said: ‘EasyJet cancelled my flight to Milan a few weeks ago and there was a really easy online process to obtain my refund which arrived within a few days.
‘Why has this function now disappeared? Sadly they are hoping by forcing customers into calling and enduring hours of waiting time that the customers will simply give up and rebook flights rather than obtain a refund.’
It is likely that airlines are trying to avoid every customer taking a cash refund as this could leave them with serious debt and facing financial ruin.
However, by law, passengers are able to request cash as opposed to a voucher or a change in flights.
A spokesperson for EasyJet said: ‘Customers previously could claim for a refund through the website but we wanted to provide an automated voucher solution so customers would have three options – to either change their flight with no fee, get an automated voucher online or if they want a refund that can be actioned by the call centre and can be done up to a year after their flight has flown.’
BA added that it was ‘facing unprecedented challenges at the moment’ but is doing what it can to get through calls.
Although many airlines are giving customers up to 12 months to claim a refund or rebook flights, customers have pointed out that rebooking flights is not an option as the same flights a year in advance are not available.
Alternatively, if replacement flights are possible they are sometimes up to double the price of the original booking.
Customers have complained that BA are making it difficult to get cash refunds for flights
You are entitled to your money back
Legally, if a cancelled flight is leaving from anywhere inside the European Union passengers are entitled to a refund, both under EU rules and contractual law. This still applies, despite the UK going through the Brexit process.
Mark Woloshak, a dispute resolution lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: ‘Many airlines are offering vouchers, instead of cash refunds, for passengers to use on future flights. If, for whatever reason, a person would like a refund instead of a voucher they are entitled to ask for their money back.
‘If the flights were booked on a credit card for more than £100 the person can claim the money back from their credit card provider instead. They could also check their holiday insurance policy to see if this would cover a refund.
‘The timeframe in which a person should expect their money back is not specified, but described as “whatever is reasonable”. This may be specified flight contracts but shouldn’t be longer than 28 days.’
To receive a refund each person will need to email, phone or write and request their money back. When requesting from a credit card provider they may want proof the fights were brought on the card, which could require finding old statements.
If the money still isn’t refunded, or the airline refuses, a person could make a complaint to their airline involved. If that does not result in a satisfactory solution the airline may have an ADR provision to resolve disputes.
If the airline does not have an ADR provision a person can complain to the civil aviation authority. If none of these options are successful a person could begin proceeding in small claims court, although this should be seen as a last resort.
What to do if your flight has been cancelled
If your flights have recently been cancelled, as most have, it is understandable that you will be looking to get the matter of refunds or vouchers sorted as soon as possible.
However, as many travellers have found, everyone has had the same idea and it is very difficult to get through to airlines at present, thanks to the large volume of calls they are fielding.
Most airlines are giving customers 12 months to claim their refund so, if you can, hold off calling straight away and contact your carrier in the coming weeks when it is likely to be much less busy.
Similarly, it could be worth asking yourself if you really need cash – a credit voucher could go towards a post-lockdown trip and, at the same time, you would be doing your bit to help airlines survive.
Whilst it is more difficult to rebook flights, as none of us know how long we will be in lockdown for, if you can re-organise for later in the year, or early next year, do so.
If for any reason at that time flights still aren’t taking place, you should be able to rebook them again.
If you decide that you do really need the money, and you can’t get through to your airline, contact your bank and see if you can charge the money back to your card. This will be at the banks discretion, however, and is not a legal protection.
After all of this, if you still have had no response, you can make a formal complain to your airline and complain to the alternative dispute resolution service – although both of these options should be a last resort.
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