Ryanair and Aer Lingus will refund passengers whose flights are banned under restrictions imposed to contain a new Covid strain that has emerged in Britain, but not to all those who cancel their trips on services that do operate.
The Republic is joining other nations in banning travellers from Britain, where the country's health secretary, Matt Hancock, says a more infectious version of the virus is "out of control".
Ryanair and Aer Lingus confirmed that they will offer refunds to passengers whose flights from Britain are cancelled following the Government’s 48-hour ban, imposed from midnight on Sunday.
EU laws require airlines to offer refunds to passengers whose flights are cancelled, but that does not apply where travellers themselves decide not to fly.
However, Aer Lingus does offer refunds to customers who have paid the highest “advantage/flex” fares for their flights and opt to cancel trips on services that do take off.
Aer Lingus will not operate flights from the UK to the Republic during the 48-hour period. But it will operate flights from the Republic of Ireland to the UK in order to facilitate the repatriation of customers to the UK and those with connecting flights in the UK.
Ryanair said it would email all customers whose flights are banned by EU governments offering them other options including “free moves [no change fee applies] or refunds if they so wish”.
The airline confirmed it would operate all those services to or from the UK that are permitted to fly.
“If any such passengers [booked on operating flights] do not wish to travel during the next five days prior to Christmas, then Ryanair will facilitate a free move of their booking [no change fee applies] to any date up to March 15th,” the airline said.
Aer Lingus said all passengers, regardless of fare type, could change travel dates free of charge as often as they wanted, up to two hours before flying, until June 16th. Customers may have to pay a fare difference if they do this.
“Depending on the fare type opted for at time of booking, customers may also be entitled to a voucher or full refund,” the company added.
Aer Lingus passengers who pay for its mid-priced “plus/smart” fares can request a voucher up to 14 days before travel, or within 14 days if a country’s Covid status changes.
Those on the cheapest “saver” fare can change their flights for nothing as often as they like, but cannot seek vouchers or an alternative.
The Government’s ban on flights from Britain applies for an initial 48 hours, until the Cabinet meets on Tuesday. Reports said the coalition was likely to allow some flights for essential workers and other purposes.
Many of the 150,000 passengers due to pass through Cork and Dublin airports between this week and January 4th are likely to be travelling between the Republic and Britain.
In the UK, British Airways said it would not return cash to travellers who opted to cancel year-end trips.
The airline, part of International Airlines Group with Aer Lingus, said it would grant ticket holders a voucher or let them switch to a later date but only refund fares if it cancels a flight.
The refund issue ignited a firestorm when similar curbs were in place last month. Last week, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began scrutinising whether airlines violated consumer rights by failing to offer passengers their money back for flights they couldn't lawfully take.
"Some airlines like EasyJet have mostly been doing the right thing and offering refunds, while others like BA only offer the option of a voucher or a rebooking," said Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer advocacy group Which?. "The CMA investigation is looking precisely into this, as the wording for Tier 4 restrictions indicates these are legal requirements, not guidance so you should be due a refund."
Additional reporting – Bloomberg