Travel Refunds in a Covid Crisis

April 3, 2020

One of the most significant impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is the effect that it has had on travel.  The collapse of Flybe, the grounding of all EasyJet planes and the suspension of all Gatwick flights by British Airways, and the closure of all Condor Ferries’ passenger routes, means that Jersey is almost completely cut off for passenger travel.  Islanders who have booked travel, whether for business or leisure, and those who were looking forward to a foreign holiday, will obviously be concerned to know whether they are able to claim a refund and what their rights are in this respect.  Condor Ferries were reported in the press yesterday (2nd April 2020) as offering vouchers to passengers for cancelled holidays as opposed to refunds.  Other travel and holiday operators have made similar offers of vouchers.  Understandably, given the uncertainty surrounding the future course of the pandemic, most Islanders would prefer to get their money back.

Flights and Ferry Journeys

Provided that your journey commences or ends in an EU Country, you are covered by EU passenger rights legislation.  Notwithstanding Brexit, these remain in force for journeys commencing or ending in the UK during the Brexit transition period (currently slated to end on 31st December 2020).  Different EU regulations apply to airline and ship passengers.  However, under both regulations, passengers who face the cancellation of their journey by the operator can choose between reimbursement of the ticket price or re-routing to reach their final destination at a later stage.  It should be said that the option of re-routing is probably going to be (understandably) very difficult for operators to provide at present!

 Under EU regulations, if an airline or ferry company cancels a journey, passengers can also be offered vouchers.  Importantly, passengers are under no obligation to accept the voucher.  Passengers are entitled to demand a full refund.  Many airlines are offering the ability to rebook or obtain a voucher online.  Those wishing to seek a refund are usually required to telephone or write to the company concerned.  For example, Condor Ferries’ booking terms and conditions state that: “a refund will only be paid if an application is submitted in writing to the Company together with a copy of the booking confirmation within two months of the date of departure.”  Given the volume of calls, passengers are likely to experience a degree of delay (and frustration) when trying to get through to their operator.

 Obviously this is a very difficult time for the travel industry.  For the travel industry, and all industries during the pandemic, cash is king.  It is understandable that operators are encouraging passengers to accept vouchers as opposed to cash refunds in an effort to conserve their cash reserves.  It may be that a better overall deal can be achieved by those passengers content to accept a voucher and to rebook at a later date.  Importantly, however, passengers cannot be compelled to accept vouchers and are entitled to a full refund.

Package Holidays

Package holidays remain hugely popular and the disruption caused by the pandemic will have thwarted the holiday plans of many.  If your trip is cancelled and you booked through a UK-based package holiday provider then you are entitled to a refund.  Under the UK Package Holiday and Travel linked Regulations, this refund should be paid within two weeks of the date of cancellation.  As with travel operators, many package holiday providers are also trying to conserve cash by seeking to persuade passengers to accept credit notes instead of refunds.  More protection is afforded to consumers with a credit note than that which is afforded by a voucher.  The Association of British Travel Agents has confirmed the Credit will be protected by ABTA and/or ATOL schemes provided the original booking had that protection.  This means the consumer is protected in the event that a credit note has been accepted and the operator should subsequently fail.

On a final note of caution, if you choose to accept a voucher, beware they are likely to have conditions including an expiry dates attached to them which could render them worthless after a certain period of time.

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