NEWS: UK Government helps stranded travellers, BA refund voucher changes and extends credit, Virgin’s remaining routes and ABTA’s requests to government

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UK Government helps stranded travellers

The government announced on Monday that they will be helping UK nationals to travel home. Where commercial flights exist, airlines should try to book travellers on an alternative route home or another airline. This should be at no or minimal additional cost. Dominic Raab advised people still abroad to book tickets home as soon as possible. Where there are no commercial flights, the government will be arranging charter flights to bring people home. Priority will be given to vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with particular medical needs. 

 

BA refund voucher changes – some good news

Yesterday I provided an update on spending the British Airways refund vouchers as BA had been restricting the use of vouchers to one per booking. I have been given an update with some more positive news from a BA contact. If you now have two vouchers from two separate bookings in your name and wish to rebook, you can use both vouchers against one new booking. The stipulation is that the booking must be in the same name. 

I was also contacted by a reader saying that they had tried to rebook with a voucher and were told that BA will not accept new bookings at the moment with vouchers. He was also told that the vouchers would have to be used online. BA agents sometimes give out conflicting advice. The BA guidance currently says “Once you receive your voucher via email, call our contact centre and quote the voucher code to use it.” I have spoken to my BA contact and he confirms that currently, you need to rebook with the call centre if you want to use a voucher. 

 

British Airways has extended its revolving credit facility

I know that the ongoing liquidity of airlines is of major concern to those with miles or vouchers. Some good news today if you are worried about BA. International Airlines Group (IAG) announced on Monday that British Airways has extended its US dollar secured Revolving Credit Facility for one year from 23 June 2020 to 23 June 2021. A revolving credit facility is a line of credit that is arranged between a bank and IAG/BA. The maximum amount available to BA is $1.38 billion. and they have access to the funds at any time when needed. Including the newly extended credit and some smaller additional facilities recently arranged, IAG has a total financing facility equivalent to €2.1 billion currently, compared to €1.9 billion at the end of 2019. IAG has not drawn down on any of its facilities.

IAG continues to have strong liquidity with cash, cash equivalents and interest-bearing deposits of €7.2 billion as at 27 March. Total cash and undrawn facilities are currently €9.3 billion.

In addition, the Group is exploring a number of operational and treasury initiatives to improve further its cash flow and liquidity.

 

Virgin routes still remaining

With many airlines such as Easyjet closing down completely, Virgin Atlantic are still planning to operate a skeleton schedule until 19 April 2020. The routes operating will be:

  • London Heathrow – Hong Kong B787-9 on alternating days
  • London Heathrow – Los Angeles 1 daily A350-1000XWB
  • London Heathrow – New York JFK 1 daily A350-1000XWB (No flight on 01APR20)

This goes to show why Virgin Atlantic are reportedly about to ask the government for a bailout. 

Sadly Virgin are still behaving in a pretty bad way towards their customers, refusing to speak to you at all if you are not due to be flying within the next 72 hours. Which would be fine if they hadn’t removed the ability to cancel refundable booking such as Flying Club miles from online. 

 

ABTA’s request to the government

We reported last week that the airline and travel agent bodies were lobbying the government for concessions on refunds for travellers. ABTA have again approached the government with a list of specific demands citing other European countries that are providing more aid for the travel sector. France, Belgium, Denmark and Italy have all introduced changes to EU rules, unlike the UK.

ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said:  

“The global pandemic has put enormous financial strain on tour operators and travel agents, with businesses seeing a collapse in sales while facing immediate repatriation costs and refund demands for cancelled holidays on a scale that is unmanageable in the short term.  

“These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines and without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers within 14 days. 

“Existing regulations are entirely unsuited to deal with this situation.  We want to avoid the scenario of normally successful travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people facing bankruptcy, resulting in holidaymakers having to wait many months for refunds through Government financial protection schemes.  

ABTA is asking the government to recognise the unprecedented nature of the situation and proposes the following temporary amendments to the package travel regulations:

  • That the 14-day window for refund payments should be extended to a four-month period.
  • That government should confirm the ongoing protection of refund credits.
  • That where suppliers (e.g. hotels or airlines) cannot or will not refund tour operators, there should be an emergency government consumer hardship fund to help fulfil refund payments.

I can understand the majority of these requests, although my concern with a 4 month refund period is that it encourages travel agents to hold onto customers money even if they could actually refund kit. I can understand that there are issues for travel agents to get the refunds from suppliers themselves. In these cases, I have some sympathy, but not every refund needs to take four months. Understandably many people are suffering financial hardship themselves and desperately need their refunds, sooner rather than later. 

10 Comments on "NEWS: UK Government helps stranded travellers, BA refund voucher changes and extends credit, Virgin’s remaining routes and ABTA’s requests to government"

  1. Laraine Barnes | 31 March 2020 at 6:33 am | Reply

    Not only are Virgin difficult to speak with, but I have been trying virtually every day and at different times of the day, to speak with BA about an urgent issue, and you cannot get further than the recording.

  2. Four months indeed… no,no,no!

    Stick with 14 day refund, a contract is a contract and failure to deliver requires a refund!

  3. My flight Saturday 28th March to Tampa was cancelled I was notified on 19th March but despite trying to call many times without success 12 days later still no refund so sadly 72 hours is not the magic number

  4. Gavin Stevenson | 31 March 2020 at 9:27 am | Reply

    The people who are happy to take a voucher or credit note is fine. These should be valid for say 18 m as we don’t know how long the crisis will last. People who want or need a cash refund should get it in 30 days. Beyond airlines the same must apply to domestic holidays like cottage rentals. Operators who refuse should have their visa and mastercard facilities suspended

  5. I really don’t understand why the government need to put aside £75m to get people back. Seems an awful lot of money. I’m sure they were well aware of that was happening globally and made a choice. Now they are saying they scared and want to come home? I understand if the country they are in have locked down airports without warning, that’s excusable.

  6. Some are already refusing refunds, at the moment i believe this is illegal, and the government should prosecute, for those that will accept a voucher ok, but if you want/need a refund they should give it, they did not make their share holders accept vouchers, in place of divedends

  7. I managed to speak to Virgin 10 days ago, I called and held for 1h and 40 min. I had a booking with miles for july, they did take my cancellation but they said the refund , which is only the taxes, could take up to 3 months! I was annoyed because I had a flight (the return) booked with miles with BA and I got the money back pretty much the next day! I do have 200k miles with VS, I hope they do not go bust. My question is since it’s taxes, will I get the refund even if they go bust? thanks

  8. ClaytonTheCruton | 1 April 2020 at 6:42 am | Reply

    I’d support a 30 day period for refunds, at a real push then perhaps 90 but I tend to agree that 4 months seems too tempting a time frame, if granted, for some less scrupulous TA’s to just hold onto peoples money. VERY glad to hear that we can use at least two vouchers against another booking.

    I also tend to agree with the commentor above regarding people “stranded abroad” and the huge sums assigned to repatriating them. It may sound brutal but I have little sympathy for people who either chose to go away after flights had already begun to be cancelled / restricted ( this started happening in Feb) and/or chose to ignore repeated advice, then warnings, then requests from HM Gov to come home asap.

    You can get cell signal on Mt Everest nowadays so any excuse of being totally out of contact for several months and legitimately being unaware of world events is, bluntly, a lie. To the small % of people who have been trying to get home for some weeks starting early March then they have my sympathy and I feel we should get them home ( subject to agreeing to quarantine on arrival back in the UK). The rest well I am less sympathetic for their own poor life choices

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