Passenger anger after fresh Ryanair U-turn on refunds

Airline writes to people already promised money back offering vouchers

 Ryanair passenger aircraft on a runway at Stansted Airport  in Essex, UK. Ryanair passengers claim the airline has changed its refund policy again. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Ryanair passenger aircraft on a runway at Stansted Airport in Essex, UK. Ryanair passengers claim the airline has changed its refund policy again. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

 

Ryanair has angered passengers who had been told refunds for cancelled flights were being processed by the airline by pressing them to accept vouchers instead.

Earlier this month, The Irish Times reported that Ryanair had started telling passengers seeking refunds that they would have to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic had passed before their claims would be processed. However, passengers who had already applied for refunds, which they are legally entitled to, were being assured that applications were still being processed, but were on the way.

In fresh emailed correspondence sent to those passengers, the airline has reversed course and included vouchers. It warned anyone seeking money back that they would have to wait until the coronavirus crisis lifts before applications will even be considered.

“Over the past months the spread of the Covid-19 virus has caused many EU governments to impose flight and/or travel bans which grounded over 99 per cent of Ryanair’s flights,” the latest email says.

“We are doing everything we can to support our customers, our people and protect jobs. We are ready to return flying when Covid-19 is defeated, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The email then includes details of travel vouchers and says the amount can be used for the “purchase of Ryanair flights and other services at any time over the next 12 months”.

When it comes to refunds the new email warns that “as our customer care agents are required to work from home to limit the spread of Covid-19 virus, payment security restrictions prevent us from processing refunds as quickly as we would like to”.

It suggests that if people do not wish to accept the voucher and want to move their flight or request a refund, they should follow a link embedded in the email. However, the link contains more information on using the vouchers with only a brief mention of refunds.

While vouchers will certainly suit many Ryanair passengers, they will not suit everyone.

“I booked a Ryanair flight to France for Easter,” one passenger, Joe English, told this newspaper. “It was cancelled on March 20th due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ryanair invited us to apply for a refund or to re-route. I opted on March 20th for a refund and on-screen message promised the refund would appear in my account within 14 working days.”

However, no refund appeared.

“An update email on 9th April sounded plausible,” he said. That email said he should “please rest assured your refund request is currently in the queue and will be processed.”

It wasn’t.

“Then today [Monday, April 20th] instead of a refund, I got an email with a very hard sell to opt instead for a voucher with a one year expiry. A one liner, well buried, said: “If you do not wish to accept this voucher option and wish to move your flight or request a refund, please click here to contact us”.

English said the reference to a refund read: “You can request a cash refund however bear in mind we will place your request in the cash refund queue until the Covid-19 emergency has passed” and he added that “there was no explicit help link to request the cash refund. I just feel this is pathetic on Ryanair’s behalf where I have gone from being told I would have a refund within 14 days to a new date that no one can dare to define – the end of the Covid-19 emergency.”

Same story

It was much the same story from another reader, Simon O’Neill: “Ryanair initially offered me a refund or voucher nearly four weeks ago when they cancelled our flights. I selected refund through the electronic response function and received a reference number,” he writes.

He says he “received a few ‘we are very busy due to Covid-19’ messages in the interim but this morning received an email to say my voucher was ready. It noted that if I wanted a refund that I should contact them (their contact function this time however is through a non-responsive chatbot) but notes that refunds will not be processed until Covid-19 restrictions end.”

He said the new correspondence was “despite the fact that I already selected a refund”.

Many other readers have also been in touch with this newspaper to express concern about the latest U-turn from Ryanair.

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.

In early April, 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 hoped would alleviate the financial pressures on companies, to protect jobs and businesses.

His department said it was 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.

In response to queries from The Irish Times the airline issued the following statement: “For any cancelled flight, Ryanair is giving customers all of the options set out under EU regulations, including refunds.”