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The coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult time for many, but the travel industry in particularly has been one which has received a significant beating. Now, even more cancellations are anticipated following Boris Johnson’s reinstatement of lockdown.
easyJet has announced that it will not be running as “many” flights as it had anticipated, meaning those with travel plans for essential reasons may be impacted.
Yet, with confusion over refunds in the age of coronavirus, travellers may be left uncertain if they will get their money back.
Three legal experts spoke with Express.co.uk to reveal exactly what the cancellations mean for hopeful holidaymakers and their bank accounts.
It turns out, if the airline itself cancels the flight for whatever reason, passengers are legally entitled to their money back.
“We have much sympathy for the airlines at this difficult time, however, the law is clear – the passenger is entitled to a monetary refund within seven days if an airline cancels a flight or a free replacement flight at a later date,” explained Coby Benson flight delay compensation solicitor at Bott and Co.
Though many airlines are first issuing a voucher for a flight at a later date, or the option to rebook, passengers have the right to refuse this in favour of financial reimbursement.
Jonathan Compton, partner at law firm DMH Stallard, said: “They have the right to a refund, period. They can accept a rebooking if offered one. But they should not be palmed off by the airline saying that the airline only offers rebooking.”
Passengers may be required to go back to the airline in order to claim their money.
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“If passengers are not given the option of a refund then they should telephone customer services or alternately put their request in writing, keeping copies,” continued Mr Benson.
“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.”
In the case of easyJet, all passengers who are impacted by the lockdown cancellations will be offered a full refund or the option to move their flight to a later date.
John Lundgren CEO of easyJet said: “Will be advising customers who are booked to travel over the next month of their options with a view to assisting customers to return to the country in the coming days.”
Though accepting a voucher is beneficial to the airlines, and a great option for those keen to fly in the future, Mr Benson warns passengers should only accept them if they will absolutely put them to use.
“Be careful of sneaky restrictions with vouchers before accepting them,” he urged.
“If passengers are considering accepting vouchers then they should make sure to check whether there are any restrictions on how they can be spent and how long they have in which to spend them.
“It is also helpful to know whether the vouchers can be spent on sister airlines, such as Iberia and British Airways.
“They issue vouchers because it is advantageous for the airline and occasionally, for the passenger too.
“It is only advantageous for the passenger if for instance they are offered a higher value in vouchers than they would be entitled to in cash and if they were planning on spending that money on replacement flights anyway.
“In the vast majority of cases it is however less advantageous to accept vouchers.
“The airlines are obviously pushing for passengers to accept vouchers because it helps with their cashflow and liquidity during this difficult time.”
Customers who have booked with an airline and are now facing difficulty receiving their money back can also contact their bank.
“You are not required to accept any changes to the service you originally purchased,” explained Jeni Mundy, UK & Ireland managing director for Visa.
“For example, if your holiday flights are rescheduled, there are ways you can try to get your money back instead of re-booking or accepting a voucher.
“If you’ve paid on a debit or credit card and the seller is withholding a refund, you can contact your bank to make a ‘chargeback’ claim.
“Keep in mind that timeframes may vary, however, for payments made on a Visa card, banks must make the claim within 120 days of the original payment, and for future-dated items like travel, this timeframe begins on the first day of the holiday.
“However, to give you the best chance of getting your money back, raise the dispute as soon as you can, allowing plenty of time for it to be raised.
“Chargebacks aren’t a legal right, and there’s no guarantee of success, but providers like Visa make sure your bank assesses each claim fairly.”
However, if an airline has not cancelled the flight, customers are warned they should not take matters into their own hands.
“If a flight is cancelled by the travellers and not the airline, this would be classed as a cancellation and therefore potentially subject to heavy cancellation charges,” warned Mr Benson.
“Unfortunately, cancellation charges can often be a high percentage, if not all of the cost of the flight leaving travellers with no reimbursement.”
Instead, holidaymakers who can not fly as a result of lockdown restrictions should contact their airline to discuss any potential options available to them.
Ms Mundy added: “With consumer spending crucial to Britain’s economic recovery, it’s concerning to see that people are worried about securing refunds should they need to, and that in some cases this is even preventing them from making purchases.
“It’s important that people understand the many options open to them to get their money back should something go wrong.
“A good place to start is to get familiar with a seller’s cancellation, refund and exchange policy before you buy – this can often be easily found on their website.
“Another good way to put yourself in the driving seat when it comes to getting your money back is to pay using a Visa debit or credit card – this opens you up to the option of making a chargeback claim or provides credit card protection to ensure you aren’t left out of pocket.”
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