More than two million people in the UK are yet to receive refunds for flights they booked and couldn’t take in the last year due to the pandemic, according to consumer watchdog, Which?.
National and local lockdowns which have been in place in parts of the country over the last year have prevented millions of people from flying, even though the flights weren’t always cancelled, or they weren’t strictly forbidden by law from travelling.
Other issues faced by travellers include restrictions preventing entry to their destinations, or Foreign Office advice against non-essential travel, which is not legally binding.
In many cases, travel operators have not been providing refunds, with some only offering the opportunity to rebook flights. These flights could often be more expensive and there is still no guarantee of being able to fly.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel said: “For almost a year now, Which? has been hearing from frustrated passengers who’ve been left out of pocket for flights they were unable to take, often through no fault of their own, because the flight went ahead as scheduled.
“While some have successfully been able to claim on their travel insurance or through their bank, others have been left high and dry.”
Rebecca Howe from Somerset booked a trip to Lanzarote for her and her family with Ryanair for 27 December 2020, at a cost of more than £900. Restrictions at the Spanish border prompted Ryanair to advise them that they couldn’t travel unless they were Spanish nationals.
Ms Howe was also told by Ryanair that, as the flight could still go ahead, she would not be entitled to a refund. She was only offered the option to rebook her flights free up until the end of March, which didn’t work because of school holidays.
Ryanair told Which? that passengers who book non refundable flights are not entitled to refunds if they choose not to travel on flights which have operated.
However, passengers can avoid being out of pocket by “availing of Ryanair’s change facility, even for bookings which were made prior to any Covid-19 flight restrictions being introduced.”
What are your rights as a passenger?
Generally you are entitled to a free refund if your holiday or flight is cancelled, meaning if you book a package holiday which later can’t go ahead, you can get your money back for the full trip, flights included.
Airlines have been able to avoid refunding many flights when they were booked separately because the flights have still been taking place in order to facilitate essential travel.
Under consumer regulations, carrier firms must offer refunds to customers of cancelled flights, but there is no specific obligation to offer refunds when customers are reasonably unable to travel, as a result of Covid restrictions and similar.
Mr Boland said: “With non-essential travel currently illegal, airlines must play their part in protecting public health by ensuring no one is left out of pocket for abiding by the law and not travelling.
“All airlines should allow passengers the option to cancel for a full refund, as well as fee-free rebooking options, while these restrictions remain in place.”
Should I book a holiday this summer?
Which? recommends that UK residents wait “until the situation around international travel becomes clearer” before booking flights for this summer.
They also recommend booking package holidays if possible, and only using trusted providers with flexible booking policies.
Passengers may also be able to get refunds through their bank for bookings made via credit card, or might be able to claim through certain travel insurance schemes if they are unable to fly due to Covid restrictions.