Since the beginning of our activity, we have received a large number of inquiries from passengers whose flights have been canceled due to a global pandemic and who are (longer or shorter) waiting for a refund. Here are the basic steps that every traveler should take.
First of all, education is very important in this case as well and we will try to explain how things work today. First and foremost, it is not the same whether you bought the ticket directly from the airline or through an agency. The difference is big and a few days ago we wrote about it for Slobodna Dalmacija.
Ticket purchased directly from the airline
Regardless of whether you bought your airline ticket on the website or at the airline's branch office, you will get your funds faster. The reason is very simple - the airlines have already got used to and adapted to the new situation (here we can use the term "new normal") and today they solve all passenger requests within a reasonable time. Of course, passengers are usually issued vouchers in the amount of the full price of the ticket, but a refund is also possible.
At the time of the pandemic, when travel restrictions began and flights began to be canceled in large numbers, companies generated large amounts of refund requests and there was some delay, primarily because there were not enough staff in the reservation departments. As the crisis continued, many companies made replacements within the companies and transferred their people to that department.
For example, Lufthansa issued a statement yesterday in which it announced that it had returned over 2.8 billion euros since the outbreak of the pandemic, to more than 6.6 million passengers! Air France also announced that about 2 million passenger requests have been processed so far, and more than 1.1 billion euros have been returned to the passengers. Air France alone currently has over 700 employees in the reservation department!
Ticket purchased through an agency
There are many more problems with travelers who bought their ticket through one of the agencies. Why? The reason is very simple. In most cases, the system works like this: The airline cancels the flight, so you get that notification from the agency. If you bought a ticket from an agency, don’t even call the airline you were supposed to fly with - call the agency. The agency then forwards your request to the airline and requests a refund. Once the airline handles your case, the money will be returned to the agency and then from the agency to you. By purchasing a ticket from an agency, you have actually created an intermediary who will have to approach the airline on your behalf and ask for a refund for you. Under normal circumstances this worked without difficulty, but today, in the global pandemic, when hundreds of flights are canceled on a daily basis, a problem has arisen.
Also, most airlines are focused on resolving the cases of "their" passengers, ie passengers who bought a ticket directly from the airline and they are a priority. In addition, the agencies did not reorganize to such an extent and strengthen their teams in order to address the requirements of their clients as soon as possible.
What to do? Don’t give up, you are entitled to your money. If you bought a ticket through an agency, contact them by phone or email, many agencies are also available via the online flight cancellation form due to the global pandemic. Persevere in your refund and be sure to go through the Terms you accepted when buying the ticket and which you certainly did not read at the time. Many agencies are unavailable today, they do not answer phone calls or e-mails, many passengers are desperate, and there are already groups on social networks where people organize and want to file joint lawsuits against such agencies. We also know of cases where the airline returned the money to the agency, but the agency did not return it to the passenger, although the agreed deadline has long passed. Unfortunately, it seems that in such situations the only option is to hire a lawyer.
EU regulations and canceled flights due to coronavirus
The rights of passengers in case of flight cancellation are regulated by EU Regulation 261/2004 which regulates the obligations of the carrier and they are applied in normal circumstances and guarantee the passenger the right to compensation. However, in the event of a canceled flight due to "extraordinary circumstances", the airlines are not obliged to pay compensation to the passenger. Since a global pandemic is considered an extraordinary circumstance, don’t waste time claiming compensation because you simply won’t get it.
As a passenger you have your rights. If the company cancels the flight you will be able to choose one of three options:
Travel to your final destination within a reasonable time,
Change of travel date,
Refunds in the form of vouchers or money.
The first option: let's say you have a ticket for a direct flight from Zagreb to Munich, but the airline canceled the flight that day. In that case, the company will offer you the option of a flight to Munich with a transfer at another airport (eg. Frankfurt) on the same date. "Rerouting" is in this case free for the passenger.
The second option leaves you the option to, if you are flexible with the date of travel, travel in the following days by a direct flight to your destination. Changing the date in this case is free for the passenger.
The last option is clear, if the option of a connecting flight or another day does not suit you, the company will issue a voucher in the amount you paid for your ticket.
We tried to get in touch with certain agencies, but the answers we received did not help us. "Because of the global pandemic, the wait for a refund can take much longer than usual, even more than 6 months." Such a brief answer will certainly not satisfy any passenger waiting for a refund of hundreds of euros.