“Under the provisions of Regulation EU 261/2004, when the passenger chooses a refund, this can be processed “in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services”. Therefore, it is up to the consumer to accept the refund in the form of a voucher or not.
As regards the refund timeframe, if passengers decide to claim a refund, the Regulation states this must be issued within 7 days after the refund option was chosen by the customer. Most recently, the Irish Commission for Aviation Regulation, which is responsible for enforcing Regulation EC 261/2004 in Ireland, issued a guidance on the matter of flight refunds and vouchers, stating that airlines are entitled to offer vouchers to passengers, but passengers are under no obligation to accept them.
We note that, if they accept the voucher option, in most cases, passengers can book travel even after the voucher’s validity period, or receive a full refund, if the voucher was not used during its validity period, usually a year from its issue.
Although consumers are entitled to a refund within the 7 days stated, securing them in the immediate while would be very difficult under the current circumstances. Given the unprecedented disruption that COVID-19 has caused, all European and world airlines are faced with an exceptional level of refund requests and customer service contacts. This has led to increasing delays in processing refunds or responding to customer queries, and we acknowledge the immense frustration of millions of customers all over the world.
Nevertheless, if a customer has opted but not received a refund or a response to a request for refund, contact and redress options are still available.
The first one is to complain directly to the airline – this can be via all the online forms available on their websites and social media, and also via regular post. Consumers should take steps to ensure that their requests for refund are received and that the receipt is documented, for example by e-mail receipt, a date-stamped screenshot of an online submission form, or registered post receipt.
As per the advice of the Commission for Aviation Regulation, there is a secondary form of redress, if consumers do not receive a satisfactory response from the airline, or no response was received within 6 weeks of making the complaint.
If your refund request involves a cancelled flight that was meant to depart from Ireland, the matter can be escalated to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, via the complaints section on its dedicated site: flightrights.ie.
If the cancelled flight originated in another EU country, the consumer needs to make a formal complaint to the national enforcement body for that country, essentially to one of the other national equivalents of the Commission for Aviation Regulation in Ireland. A list of these are on the CAR’s site and also on our site: eccireland.ie, together with information and advice on the procedures to follow.
‘Consumers rights are unambiguous in the current, applicable European Union Regulation EC 261/2004.’, says Dr Cyril Sullivan, ECC Ireland’s Director. ‘Where a flight is cancelled or passengers are unable to avail of a flight due to COVID-19 restrictions, passengers are entitled to a refund. However, this has to be balanced with the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19. One of the options offered by some airlines is vouchers, which is their entitlement according to the same Regulation; however they must also provide an option for a full cash refund if that is the customer’s choice.’”
Michael Flood is the Editor of Ireland's leading travel industry publication, Irish Travel Trade News. With more than 35 years experience, he has accumulated an in-depth knowledge of the airline industry and the travel and tourism world.