Global air travel, airlines and its distribution partners, including travel agents, are discussing refund and voucher policies for airline-cancelled flights with regards to Covid-19.
These discussions are aimed at supporting passengers, who had their flights cancelled due to the coronavirus, and the short-term financial stability of airlines, with travel agents generating about 50% of global air travel bookings.
Asata chief executive Otto de Vries said: “While we act representative of the travel agencies, which have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 and the associated travel bans, we believe that the delay or refusal to refund passengers is in contravention of the Consumer Protection Act.”
He said agents were best positioned to educate customers on the refund and voucher policies offered by airlines.
“The final decision must be left to the consumer, and the consumer should be offered the choice of a refund.
“In accordance with the Consumer Protection Act, airlines should extend full refunds for customers requesting them, the total amount paid by the customer, in lieu of credit for future travel. We do not condone unsecured vouchers as an alternative to the consumer’s right to a refund, particularly in the case of South African Airways.
“As we are all aware, passengers who have booked flights on SAA have been given three options, none of which include the option for a full refund. Bearing in mind that the CPA requires all consumer funds for future bookings to be ring-fenced and treated separately from the assets of the supplier, a refund should be legally possible even when the supplier is in financial distress,” said De Vries.
The travel agent’s role in refunds and vouchers
The intrinsic nature of air ticket bookings means that travel agents must be involved in the process of establishing refund and voucher policies to ensure they are able to service their customers. But this means that airlines will have to reinstate automated ticket change capabilities through the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) and update these automated processes with airlines’ policies on refunds and vouchers to streamline the process. This will allow travel agencies to process all refunds and vouchers through the GDS.
Asata believes customers who have requested a refund via their travel agent should receive the same treatment as a customer who has requested the same refund directly from the airline. Asata said vouchers must be made accessible through all channels, direct or indirect distribution if vouchers are offered and accepted by the customer.
It also revealed that the vouchers should be available for a period of 12 months from the original date of travel departure, free of change-fees and automatically refunded in cash on the expiration of the voucher.
”Vouchers should be guaranteed to protect from potential bankruptcy of an airline. Even if, after 12 months from the original departure date, the customer chooses a refund in cash and the airline is not able to provide this refund or has already become insolvent, the voucher must be protected by a guarantee fund,” explained De Vries.