I was contacted today week by a newspaper journalist who posed this question to me, as he was writing an article on why refunds seem to be months in coming, as well as why some passengers are eligible for refunds when others are not. I thought it was timely, because more and more we are hearing this question asked. So, I decided to write an article about it to hopefully bring clarity and understanding to a situation which still appears to have a lot of question marks.
It is a fair enough question. If two passengers buy a ticket on the same airline (let’s say, Air New Zealand, for example), and neither can travel due to restrictions placed upon them by this global pandemic, surely, if the airline’s policy allows refunds, both should be treated the same, right? On the surface, the equation seems simple enough. In reality, however, it is extraordinarily complex.
The fact is, there could be 1001 variables why someone you know has received a refund, and you are only permitted a credit, or perhaps a partial refund only. There is no one blanket policy which will cover all airfares, or even one blanket policy that will cover one airline.
Just like governments which have had to adapt to the changing landscape that this global pandemic has thrown at us, so airlines too have to strike an even balance between keeping clients satisfied, and maintaining a sustainable business model for the future. Therefore, airline policies have changed and evolved over the course of the last 5 months, to meet the challenges of a situation which nobody has ever before faced in the history of our industry.
Amongst the reasons for the differences in refund vs nil refund vs credit vs partial refund could be any one, or even a combination, of the following answers to these questions :
♦ When did you book your flight?
♦ When did you cancel your flight?
♦ Where was your flight going to? Was your friend going to New York, and you to London? (for example)
♦ Was there a travel ban on at the time you cancelled?
♦ Was that travel ban from Australia, or at your destination?
♦ Is there a travel ban on now? Is that ban ex Australia, or at your destination?
♦ Did you agree to a credit when the pandemic first began, and later changed your mind and decided you actually prefer a refund?
That last question really is a big one, and it has been the cause of frustration for several of our clients. Due to the ever-changing nature of airline policies, some airlines have gone from credit only – refunding for a short period – nil refunds – credit only – refunding for a short period. And it could certainly change again. In fact, I can almost promise you, it will! To date, Qatar Airways is up to Version 17 of their COVID-19 policy, Virgin Australia up to Version 20. And this is the way it simply must be. For any airline to have a static policy would be business suicide.
So, from the above, you can see how all of the above questions will definitely impact your individual circumstances. Timing is everything, and everything in the travel industry has a strict time limit.
Just as COVID-19 has forced us to find solutions to problems we have never before faced, so are airlines, tour operators, hoteliers and other suppliers forced to come up with solutions to problems that they too have never before had to address.
Frustration is natural and normal under these circumstances, but it is important to remember that your travel professional is in no way responsible for whether or not you are eligible, or ineligible for a refund.
As for why refunds are taking longer than ever before to process (anywhere between three – six months, in fact), the reason is quite simple when you think about what is going on globally. The travel industry has been absolutely decimated by the effects of COVID-19. Qantas alone have stood down thousands of staff until at least July 2021, in addition to making over 6,000 positions vacant. It is only the minimal staff remaining who are loaded with the mammoth task of procession millions upon millions of refunds for destinations and clients worldwide. It stands to reason that, with a much smaller workforce and a multiplied workload, refunds will definitely take several months to be returned to passengers.
COVID-19 is something none of us could possibly have foreseen, and is also completely out of everyone’s control. Yet, it is the travel industry that is being pushed up against the wall to refund services purchased as far back as 2019. No other industry is refunding for work completed last year so it is worthwhile keeping things in perspective.
We genuinely do understand the frustration that our clients are feeling. Please understand, if you are feeling it once or twice, we are feeling it multiplied! We do feel you, we do understand you, and there is a reason for refund vs nil refund vs credit vs partial refund. The thing to remember is, the old adage really does apply during times like these – “When we have our health, we are the richest people in the world.”
♦ Jaqui Preketes is the Managing Director of Touchdown Tours and Cosmos Tours