British Airways passengers told the BBC they were denied cash refunds for canceled flights.
Gordon and Margaret Minto accepted the vouchers instead after their flights to the United States were canceled, the airline said.
“We were stunned… we looked at each other and said, ‘We didn’t ask for a voucher.’ We haven’t received any either, ”says Margaret.
BA said it “will always provide a refund if a customer is eligible”.
But the South Shields Mintos are among many vacationers who have found themselves in a bind with the airline after their flights were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline claims to have accepted the vouchers, while they all say they never wanted any at all.
Under EU law, when a flight is canceled, passengers are entitled to their refund within seven days.
Airlines are always free to offer them the option to book or take vouchers, which can be used on different flights in the future, if that’s what a customer prefers.
The Mintos had spent £ 4,748 on five tickets for themselves and their family members to fly from Newcastle via London to Dallas and Las Vegas.
They say they always wanted a cash refund, but communicating that wish to British Airways was difficult.
Refund option removed
The airline previously offered an online facility where people could request a refund for canceled flights. He called it “the fastest way” to get your money back.
But when Covid-19 hit and thousands of flights were canceled, that option was removed from the company’s website.
BA says it was because its system was not configured to handle this volume of traffic, so passengers who wanted refunds were asked to call the company instead.
The problem was that many passengers also found it difficult to get through phone lines.
The Mintos gave up and emailed BA asking for their refund. They received a response saying that as far as the airline is concerned, they had already accepted the vouchers and could not exchange them for cash.
Even more confusing, according to Margaret, was the response they received from a BA staff member when they managed to get on the phone.
“They said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t find anything on the system that shows you’ve accepted a voucher and I’m going to go to a supervisor and call you back in three days.’ ‘It was the last one we heard. and that was two and a half weeks ago, ”she says.
When the BBC contacted British Airways, the airline insisted that Mr. and Mrs. Minto had filled out a voucher request form because there is “no way” their system would issue vouchers without one.
Yet other British Airways customers who were seeking cash refunds for canceled flights also claim that they were automatically issued vouchers.
“I didn’t fill out a voucher request form and to my knowledge I didn’t click anything to request a voucher,” says Terry Lloyd of Barnet in North London.
“In the end, it seemed to me that the only reasonable option was to say to customer services, ‘well, show me the form you claimed to have filled out.’ Despite repeated requests, they will not send it to me. I can only assume because it doesn’t exist. I am totally disenchanted with them. It’s a pathetic piece of obscurity on their part. ”
Other customers say they mistakenly filled out voucher request forms after logging into their account looking for ways to get their money back.
At one point, BA’s website displayed two buttons, one titled “edit reservation” and the other titled “cancel reservation” with a message below that said, “There is no cost. extra for changes and we offer a refund if you cancel your reservation ”.
People who clicked ‘cancel reservation’ in the hope of a refund were actually redirected to a voucher request form.
There was “Future Travel Voucher Request Form” written in big letters at the top and a checkbox at the bottom acknowledging acceptance of the vouchers, but several people seem to have missed this.
David Hunter from Sutton in Surrey says he was “sucked” by the previous page that promised a refund and filled out the form thinking that was what he was getting. He only realized his mistake after pressing submit and, within an hour, was able to communicate with British Airways by phone.
“British Airways said ‘no, that’s it, that’s what you chose, that’s what you get,’ he says, meaning he’s stuck with a voucher for his outbound flights. -return of £ 768 to the Seychelles.
David Travers, a lawyer specializing in trade standards and consumer protection law, believes that the fact that a number of people have been misled “rather suggests” that the British Airways website was misleading.
“There is something unattractive, people might think, about a large commercial enterprise playing gotcha with a client – if you read that more carefully you would have realized what we were doing.
“This is something that the courts and the law have found it difficult to treat with some caution due to the unequal position between the consumer and the business,” he says.
BA says the voucher process is clearly worded but didn’t explain why part of their website seemed to offer a refund but led people to a voucher request form instead.
The regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, says that if consumers feel misled, then they should file a complaint about their experience, first with the airline and then, if they are not. satisfied with the response, they can seek redress through the approved alternative dispute resolution service. , which in the case of British Airways is the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
“We will always provide a refund if a customer is eligible and we offer flexibility if one of our customers needs to change flights,” British Airways said in a statement.
“Since March, we have provided over 1.67 million customers with cash refunds and over 1.3 million vouchers to travel with us which they can use through April 2022.”
You & Yours is broadcast every day of the week from 12:18 p.m. on BBC Radio 4