Airlines call for help amid refunds confusion

By Andy Hoskins, published 27/03/20

Airlines UK, whose members include the country’s largest carriers, has reportedly written to the government requesting a range of measures to help them through the coronavirus crisis.

The proposed package includes the ability for airlines to issue vouchers rather than refunds to passengers who hold bookings – a move that the Business Travel Association (BTA) criticised earlier in the week.

In a letter obtained by Sky News, Airlines UK – which represents British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and Ryanair – asked the government to underwrite “hundreds of millions of pounds” in regulatory and air traffic control charges and suspend APD payments for six months after the end of the pandemic.

"Carriers should also be permitted to issue vouchers instead of refunds and, should refunds be required, carriers should be permitted to defer payment until the crisis period is over and as defined by air traffic volumes, rather than time period," the group said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had previously told airlines that they could only expect to enter discussions about aid as a last resort.

Earlier this week the BTA noted that while major UK airlines are offering refunds, many major overseas carriers are refusing to do so, even where flights have been cancelled as a result of government advice.

“These airlines are instead offering vouchers which prevent the BTA’s member TMCs from refunding their corporate traveller customers, and the companies for whom they work, from recovering the money that they have paid,” says the BTA.

“The BTA is therefore calling on all airlines to offer cash refunds rather than vouchers, and to do so via the quickest means possible.”

Clive Wratten, CEO of the BTA, says: “We understand that these are very challenging times for the airline industry, but those difficulties are also being faced by other parts of the business travel supply chain and, indeed, across the wider business community.”