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Neil Kerrison writes
On Jan 30 2020, I booked two return flights from Gatwick to Toronto with Air Transat departing on April 23. Because of the pandemic, the airline cancelled the flights on April 3 by email and attached two vouchers, each showing a travel credit of £447.22.
The terms of the vouchers say they must be used within 24 months and can only be used by the person in whose name they are issued. A few months later I received another email from Air Transat saying that it would refund the cost of the outbound flights but only give a credit for the return flight.
I have written to Air Transat several times asking for a full refund but its agents claim they have no authority to process one. Is this a common practice among airlines?
Gill Charlton, consumer correspondent, replies
We are fortunate in the UK to have consumer protection laws – in the form of Regulation (EC) 261/2004 – which require airlines to refund cancelled flights in cash. However, the regulation’s refund policy only applies to flights leaving the UK. It does not apply to flights arriving in the UK from outside Europe – even if you have bought a return ticket in the UK.
Flights operated by American, Middle Eastern or Asian airlines operate under the consumer laws of the country in which they are based. This means that, under UK law, Canadian-owned Air Transat has to refund you for the outbound flight but not for the return.
Its Conditions of Carriage have a legally binding catch-all that says that the airline is not liable “for failure in the performance of its obligations due to force majeure”. It is one of many foreign-owned airlines – notably low-cost carriers – that have taken the decision to issue vouchers for future travel for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.
Even the CEO of the International Air Transport Association, which represents most of the world’s scheduled airlines, has been championing vouchers as a way “to buy the industry vital time to breathe… and survive the crisis”.
We have received many complaints from readers who are still waiting for refunds or vouchers especially for flights cancelled in the first few months of the pandemic.
If the airline is not engaging, contact its Alternative Dispute Resolution company. Details can be found on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website: caa.co.uk/passengers/resolving-travel-problems. If the airline has not appointed an ADR, the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaint Team will take up your case with the airline. Due to the demand for this service, it will take two to three months to resolve the complaint.