British Airways passengers have told the BBC that they have been refused cash refunds for canceled flights.
The airline said that Gordon and Margaret Minto accepted vouchers instead of canceling their flights to the United States.
“We were stunned … We looked at each other and said, ‘We haven’t asked for a voucher. We haven’t got a single one”, says Margaret.
BA stated that “if the customer is eligible it will always provide a refund”.
But Mintos of South Shields is among several holidaymakers who found themselves standing with the airline after canceling their flights due to a coronovirus epidemic.
The airline says they accept vouchers, while they say they never wanted a voucher.
Under EU law, passengers are entitled to get their money back within seven days when a flight is canceled.
Airlines are still free to offer them the chance to rebook or take a voucher, which can be used on different flights in the future, if that customer prefers.
Mintos had spent £ 4,748 on five tickets for him and family members flying from Newcastle via London to Dallas and Las Vegas.
He says that he always wanted a cash back but it was difficult for British Airways to make this wish.
Refund option removed
The airline offered an online facility where people could request refunds for canceled flights. It called it the “fastest way” to get a refund.
But when Kovid-19 was hit and thousands of flights were being canceled, that option was removed from the company’s website.
BA says that the reason was that its system was not set up to deal with the volume of traffic, so passengers seeking refunds were asked to ring the company instead.
The problem then was that of many passengers who struggled to get on the phone lines as well.
Mintos conceded defeat and demanded his money back from BA. They got an answer, as far as the airline was concerned, they had already accepted the vouchers and they could not exchange them for cash.
All the more surprising feedback, according to Margaret, was the response she received from a BA staff member when she did manage to receive it over the telephone.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t get anything on that system that shows that you have accepted the voucher and I’m going to ring you back in a better and three days.” It was two and a half weeks ago, ”she says.
When the BBC contacted British Airways, the airline asked Mr and Mrs Minto to fill out a voucher request form as “there is no way” in which its system would issue a voucher without one.
Yet other British Airways customers who were after cash back for canceled flights are also claiming that the vouchers were automatically issued to them.
Terry Lloyd of Barnet, North London says, “I did not complete a form asking for vouchers and to the best of my knowledge I did not click anything for a voucher.”
“In the end I felt that the only sensible option for customer services was, ‘well show me the form you allegedly completed’. Despite repeated requests, they would not send it to me. I can only believe it. Because it does not exist. I am completely disappointed with them. This is a pathetic piece of objectionable situation on their part. ”
Other customers say they mistakenly filled the voucher application forms after logging into their accounts, so that they could get their money back.
At one level the BA website displayed two buttons, one labeled “change booking” and the other labeled “canceled booking” with a message stating: “There is no additional cost for any change and if you cancel your booking We do offer refunds ”.
Those who click “canceled bookings” expecting a refund were actually taken with an application for a voucher.
It had a “Future Travel Voucher Application Form” written in capital letters and a box to tick downwards acknowledging acceptance of the voucher, but many seem to have missed it.
David Hunter from Sutton, Surrey, says he was “sucked in” by a previous page that promised a refund and filled out the paper wondering what he was doing. He only realized his error after submission and, within hours, managed to get on the telephone via British Airways.
“British Airways said ‘No, this is what you choose is what you are getting,'” he says, meaning he is stuck with a voucher for his £ 768 return flights to Seychelles is.
Barrister David Travers, who specializes in trade standards and consumer protection law, believes the British Airways website was misleading, rather misled by many.
“There is something unattractive, people might think, about a big business concern playing ‘gotcha’ with a customer – if you read that more carefully you would realize what we were doing.
“This is something that the court and the law have taken some trouble to use due to the disparity of position between the consumer and the business,” he said.
The BA states that the voucher process is clearly written, but fails to explain why part of its website offers a refund but people took voucher applications instead.
The regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, states that if consumers feel misled, they should complain about their experience, first with the airline and then, if they are not satisfied with the response, they endorse an approved alternative dispute resolution service. Can seek redress through, which in the case of British Airways is the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
British Airways said in a statement, “We will always provide refunds if the customer is eligible and we are offering flexibility if our customers need to change their flights.”
“Since March we have provided cash refunds and more than 1.3 million vouchers to more than 1.67 million customers to fly with us that they can use right up to April 2022”.
You and Your Air is on air every week from 12:18 on BBC Radio 4