Passengers and agents allege Aer Lingus is breaking law on refunds

Airline denies claims while flying near-empty planes to US despite restrictions on arrivals

Aer Lingus offers passengers alternate bookings and vouchers. Details of passenger rights to refunds are only available by following a link to a complex page of terms and conditions. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Aer Lingus offers passengers alternate bookings and vouchers. Details of passenger rights to refunds are only available by following a link to a complex page of terms and conditions. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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Aer Lingus has denied it is breaking the law by not offering full refunds to passengers who have had flights cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, passengers, tour operators and travel agents have all flagged significant issues when dealing with the airline in recent days.

Aer Lingus has also been accused of side-stepping refund claims from US-bound passengers by flying virtually empty planes across the Atlantic despite the fact that Irish passengers with bookings cannot travel as a result of restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.

The owner of the Tour America travel agency Mary McKenna said Aer Lingus was one of a number of airlines not following EU regulations and refusing to give passengers refunds.

She said it was attempting to push people into accepting vouchers or alternate bookings instead of giving them money back. She also said it was withholding money paid out by travel agents on behalf of clients. “They have thrown the travel agents and tour operators under the bus,” she said. “A voucher instead of a refund is not acceptable and it is not going to be much use to someone who has lost their job.”

‘Ghost planes’

Chairman of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association Pat Dawson said it was “a black-and-white issue” and Aer Lingus was in breach of regulations by refusing to process refunds.

He said thousands of people who had paid for flights to the US could not travel because of restrictions. “But Aer Lingus won’t give refunds and are flying ghost planes across the Atlantic that are almost empty. It is absolutely disgraceful.”

Aer Lingus denied it was denying people refunds and said when flights were cancelled it “provides guests with information in relation to their rights under EU Regulation 261 including, the right to a refund”.

It said “refund requests are being actioned via our website, through our social channels and through our call centre”.

It said it was operating a reduced schedule to the US “to facilitate repatriation across Europe and North America” and passengers due to travel up to May 31st could change bookings or apply for travel vouchers.

If said if flights were “proceeding as planned and there is a government-issued travel restriction or travel warning, guests should contact their travel insurer to seek a refund”.

Rebooking or voucher

The European Consumer Centre which polices consumer rights across the EU, stressed that irrespective 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”.

Many readers have contacted this newspaper to express concern about Aer Lingus’s policy on refunds. “My flight is cancelled and Aer Lingus have offered me two options – to rebook or a voucher,” said John McDonald. “All I want is the money back on to my credit card, but that option is not included in the correspondence.”

In email correspondence about cancelled flights, Aer Lingus offers passengers alternate bookings and vouchers. Details of passenger rights to refunds are only available by following a link to a complex page of terms and conditions.

US-bound passengers have struggled more because flights are not being cancelled. “I was supposed to travel to New York in April,” said Derek O’Sullivan. “The US authorities won’t let non-Americans in but Aer Lingus is still flying into the country. I can’t go but Aer Lingus won’t refund me. I got an email from them giving me a choice of a travel voucher with a extra 10 per cent or I can change my dates.”

He said he does not know where he stands with his job and is “one of the thousands of people who are out of work. In these difficult times, a refund of €1,700 would be gratefully received.”

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