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Passengers Struggle to Obtain Cash Refunds from BA

Posted on 9th September 2020

Customers of major airline, British Airways (BA) have expressed frustration over being refused refunds in cash for cancelled flights.

One couple claimed that though the airline said they had accepted vouchers instead of cash after having their flights cancelled, they had neither asked for vouchers nor been issued them. After spending £4,748 on tickets for themselves and their family, they stated they always wanted a cash refund but that communicating this with BA was difficult. After struggling to get through via phone they instead emailed the airline advising they wanted a cash refund, however, the response they received stated that they had already accepted vouchers which could not be exchanged for cash.

The airline stated that it will “always provide a refund if a customer is eligible” but more and more of its passengers are finding themselves in a ‘stand-off’ after having their flights cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Passengers are claiming that they never wanted or accepted vouchers, whilst the airline claims the vouchers were accepted.
Passengers are entitled to cash refunds under EU law if their flight is cancelled, however, airlines are still able to offer alternate solutions such as re-bookings or vouchers if they wish, but the choice remains with the customer.

Though pre-Covid the airline had an online facility through which passengers could request refunds for cancelled flights, once the pandemic struck and thousands of flights were forced to be cancelled, the online facility was removed from the airline’s website. The airline claims the reason it was removed was because it was not able to cope with the volume of traffic it would be about to receive and so passengers that wanted cash refunds were instead informed to phone the company. However, passengers have said that when they tried to get through via phone, they struggled.

BA claims that there is “no way” that its system would provide a voucher to a passenger if they had not completed the ‘voucher request form’, but another passenger from North London said they faced the same issue after having a voucher automatically issued to them.

The passenger stated: “I didn’t complete a form asking for a voucher and, to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t click anything asking for a voucher. […] In the end it seemed to me the only sensible option was to say to the customer services ‘well show me the form which you alleged I completed.’ Despite repeated requests, they will not send it to me. I can only assume it’s because it doesn’t exist. I’m totally disenchanted with them. It is a pathetic piece of obfuscation on their part.”

Other customers of the airline have advised they completed a voucher application form by mistake after logging into their online accounts to identify the process for obtaining a refund. At one point, two buttons were displayed to customers on the BA website, one which stated “change booking” and the other “cancel booking”, the latter had a disclaimer underneath stating: “There’s no extra cost for any changes and we offer a refund if you cancel your booking”. However, those who opted for the ‘cancel booking’ were then taken to a form which was actually an application for vouchers. Though the form had ‘Future Travel Voucher Application Form’ written at the top and a box at the bottom which acknowledged the passenger’s acceptance of vouchers, several passengers seem to have been confused by it and the airline’s process.

One passenger claimed that the previous page had left them confused as it promised a refund, so they therefore completed the form thinking it was for an actual refund. They only realised the error they had made after submitting the form and despite contacting BA by phone within the hour, were told that it was too late, and as they had selected vouchers that is what they would receive.

The passenger, who works as a barrister specialising in trading standards and consumer protection law, believes the BA website is potentially misleading as several customers have had the same issue. He said: “There is something unattractive, people might think, about a large commercial concern playing ‘gotcha’ with a customer – if you read that more carefully you would have realised what we were doing. This is something the courts and the legislation have taken some trouble to treat with a degree of caution because of the inequality of the position between the consumer and the business.”

BA has claimed that the voucher process is ‘clearly worded’ on its website, however, it has not offered an explanation as to why when customers opted to receive a cash refund, they were directed to the voucher refund application form instead, causing confusion.

Regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that consumers who feel they have been misled by the airline should open a complaint. They should, in the first instance, open this with the airline, however, if they receive no joy then they can seek redress via the approved alternative dispute resolution service, which in BA’s case is the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).