Airlines not refunding for cancelled flights due to lockdown, allege travel agents

New Delhi, Apr 7 (PTI) Travel agents body TAAI on Tuesday alleged that a majority of IATA-member airlines have disabled the refunding mechanism on the Global Distribution Services System (GDS-system) for agents and urged the civil aviation ministry to direct the airlines to repay customers for cancelled flights due to 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus infection.

Most of the airlines, including domestic players, have refused to refund customers whose flights either got cancelled due to the suspension of all commercial passenger flights in the wake of 21-day lockdown, or because of the visa and travel restrictions by various countries or they themselves cancelled tickets on account of pandemic concerns.

The airlines are forcing customers to accept travel vouchers with their validity, in some cases, as long as one year.

Not only this, domestic airlines except the national carrier Air India, have started taking bookings from April 15 onwards. The three-week lockdown will remain in force till April 14, as of now.

'Due to the travel restrictions placed by governments across the world, customers/travellers want to cancel their bookings and claim back refunds for tickets booked by them. Travellers want their blocked money back for the unutilised travel, which shall not be undertaken by them,' Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) Vice President Jay Bhatia said in a statement.

The travel agents/tour operators have paid in full to the airlines for all tickets that have been issued, till date.

'Our member agents are wanting to process the refunds for the tickets issued by them for their customers,' TAAI said.

'But majority of IATA member airlines have disabled the refunding mechanism on the GDS systems for agents, who are now required to manually process refunds through Refund Authority with IATA, whereby the airlines are being non-committal on the date and amount of repayment of airfare,' the association alleged.

A GDS is a computer network system that allows travel agencies and websites to book tickets on any airline for a passenger. While all full-service carriers avail GDS system for selling their tickets, a few budget airlines also use this platform.

'Post-April 15, if things come to normalcy, the refund process, if authorised by the airlines, may take from 15 days to at least three months, depending on the airline and how the situation across the globe remains, Bhatia said.

Currently, most of the airlines are not giving waivers on the cancellation charges and also not refunding in cash. They are only giving credit vouchers, which are valid for 365 days and a couple of them are offering credit vouchers for up to 760 days, favouring the passenger, whereby name change will not be permitted, TAAI said.

Further, according to the Association, additional funds of the agents are blocked with the airlines which have been paid by way of advances in float accounts of low-cost carriers.

According to TAAI, most low-cost carriers too are not refunding the airfares and are creating a credit shell favouring the passenger, to be used for future dates.

TAAI said it has raised strong objections on this issue with the airlines along with IATA and has asked the Ministry to direct the airlines to refund all refund money,' it said.

'We are working closely wA and IATA on daily basis to find a suitable solution, to resolve the refund issue, in the interest of the passenger, along with support from Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH),' said Bhatia. PTI IAS MR MKJ