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‘Our flight refund battle for mum who can barely walk’

Clare and her mother Veronica

Clare D’Agnostino

An elderly grandmother who can “barely walk” has finally been sent a refund – a year after her flight was cancelled.

Veronica Brown, aged 85, had hoped to visit her son and grandchildren in Munich last Easter, until Covid restrictions put an end to her plans.

Her daughter Clare D’Agostino said, with little prospect of rearranging, there was “no way on earth” they would have chosen a voucher over a refund.

But they were sent one anyway, until the BBC followed up the case.

Pointless voucher

Mrs Brown visited her family in Germany as much as she could. In her advancing years, her daughter Clare booked her flights for her.

The Easter trip was booked via Expedia, but then the Covid crisis intervened, and all such travel halted.

For a variety of reasons including an apparent disagreement between agent and the airline, Lufthansa, Clare then found it impossible to get a refund, and was sent a flight voucher instead.

She knew that was pointless, with the outlook suggesting little chance of travel – particularly for the elderly – for some time.

“My mum is now unable to walk properly and would never be able to use the voucher,” she said.

She then heard a report on BBC 5 Live about issues with flight vouchers and, in her frustration, sent in a message explaining how she had been “left in limbo”.

After following up her case with Expedia, the BBC has now been told that a refund has finally been granted.

“We have looked into the case and can confirm that the customer is eligible for a full refund which has now been processed,” a spokeswoman for the company said.

“We will contact them directly about this, and also, as a gesture of goodwill to apologise for any inconvenience, apply a £100 hotel coupon to their Expedia account.”

Person on a plane

Getty Images

Clare, and her mum, said the decision was “really great news”.

Although the cost of the flight was relatively small, at £170, they said it was a “point of principle” that the money should be returned.

Other travellers have had similar difficulties securing a refund.

With considerable uncertainty over when international leisure travel will resume, that has meant holding on to a voucher worth hundreds of pounds for some time.

There is also the potential for prices to have risen considerably by the time that voucher can be used so, in effect, the money will not go so far.

Experts say that vouchers have re-emerged as an issue as it is a year on from many of those cancelled trips and some vouchers are set to expire, which could make them worthless if unused.

Generally, anyone who accepted a voucher signed away the right to a refund. However, some airlines are allowing vouchers to be swapped for cash, and others are extending the validity of the voucher.

Some holidaymakers say they were in a similar situation to Clare, not wanting a voucher but being sent one anyway, or having not been made aware that a cash refund was an option.

In those cases, if an airline or agent refuses to refund, individuals may be able to take their case to an independent dispute resolution service.

The travel industry has expressed its concern at the lack of clarity over the return of international travel.

The Business Travel Association said the latest government announcement was “beyond disappointing” and called for “a clear pathway to international travel and trade”.

Presentational grey line

What are my rights?

  • If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund to the original form of payment within seven days, although many airlines have struggled to meet that deadline. You can accept, or refuse, vouchers or a rebooking but a voucher will probably be invalid if the airline later goes bust
  • If you decide against going on a future flight, which is not yet cancelled, then there is no right to a refund. Different airlines have different rules over what you can do but many are waiving any charges for changing to a later flight or having a voucher instead.
  • If you have a package holiday, then a refund should be provided for the whole holiday within 14 days if it is cancelled

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BBC News – Business

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