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Coronavirus: Ryanair suspends refunds and offers passengers vouchers instead

Customers who want money back can ‘join cash-refund queue’ until crisis has passed

Ryanair: the airline says security restrictions prevent it from processing cash refunds. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Ryanair has started to tell passengers who want refunds for cancelled flights that they will have to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic has passed – but that it can offer them vouchers straight away.

In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis Ryanair was praised in industry circles for bucking a trend among other airlines, including Aer Lingus, by adhering to EU regulations and automatically offering passengers refunds for cancelled flights instead of alternative bookings or vouchers.

In recent days, however, the airline’s position appears to have shifted: Irish Times readers report receiving Ryanair emails that say the airline cannot process refunds until after pandemic has subsided, and the best passengers affected by the mass cancellation of flights can hope for is a voucher valid for 12 months.

The emails tell passengers who “wish to request cash as an alternative” to a voucher that “as our payment agents are required to stay at home in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, payment security restrictions prevent us from processing cash refunds until the Covid-19 crisis has abated.

“We would like to invite you to use your voucher to book your next trip and we look forward to seeing you again on a Ryanair flight in the very near future. Should you prefer a cash refund please contact us... and we will place your request in the cash refund queue until the Covid-19 emergency has passed.”

At the time of writing, Ryanair had not responded to an Irish Times request for a comment.

Passenger rights

Under European Union regulations, passengers on cancelled flights must be offered the choice of a refund, a rerouting at the earliest opportunity or a rerouting at a later date. Earlier this week it emerged that those rules were on the brink of being suspended as Minister for Transport Shane Ross considered allowing airlines and tour operators to issue vouchers instead of refunds when flights were cancelled, as part of a set of measures that he hopes will alleviate the financial pressures on companies, to protect jobs and businesses.

His department said it is assessing proposals to help airlines, travel agents and tour operators “in a way that does not materially erode consumer rights. The challenge is in finding a fair and commensurate response to what is a unique set of circumstances.”

Many airlines have been accused by passengers and travel agents of withholding refunds in recent days and instead offering vouchers or the opportunity to rebook flights for a later date without incurring booking fees, which runs contrary to the Europe-wide EU261/2004 regulation.

The European Consumer Centre, which polices consumer rights across the EU, last week stressed that, regardless of what passengers had been told, airlines are “obliged to respect passenger rights, which remain unchanged even under such extraordinary circumstances as the Covid-19 restrictions”. It said people were entitled to refunds if flights were cancelled.