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'It's unfair' - Customers claim ferries are taking payments for trips they cannot take

Ferry companies say sailings continue to operate, but "enhanced flexibility" is being offered to customers wishing to rebook due to Covid-19 travel restrictions

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The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats on its arrival into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats on its arrival into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Stena Estrid, which sets sail on the Irish Sea from January 2020.

Stena Estrid, which sets sail on the Irish Sea from January 2020.

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The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats on its arrival into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Ferry customers have complained that outstanding payments are being deducted for trips that, due to travel restrictions, they are unable to take.

While ferries continue to sail between Ireland, the UK and France, both to maintain supply chains and cater for essential journeys, the Irish Government is advising against all non-essential travel "until further notice".

That puts leisure passengers with imminent sailings in a bind.

Last November, for example, customer Padraig Murphy says he booked June sailings to France with Irish Ferries for two adults and five children.

He paid a €100 deposit, with the balance of €1,413.50 due on April 23.

"When Covid hit, we contacted Irish Ferries on March 23 to see what the options were. We were advised that nothing had changed and they would contact us if there were any changes..."

"Clearly everything did change."

The balance was deducted around April 30, and he says he spent two weeks in "repeated contact" by phone and email, but found it difficult to talk directly to customer support.

"Irish Ferries are playing the 'we are sailing as normal' [card] when they know people are not permitted to leave Ireland or enter France without essential reason," Murphy claims.

After persistent contact, he was eventually able to secure a refund, but says despite "many happy years on Irish Ferries", the whole experience has been disappointing: "this just stinks."

Other customers have made similar complaints on social media and in correspondence with the Irish Independent.

Irish Ferries replied in a statement:

"In line with every other Irish travel business at present, Irish Ferries are experiencing unprecedented call volumes and are working hard to communicate with our customers.

"We are prioritising those passengers who are booked to travel with us in the next five days, and apologise if customers are finding it difficult contacting us.

"We have implemented social-distancing policies and while many of our service teams are also working remotely, we have seconded additional personnel to assist in managing contact volumes."

Most customers due to sail to France this summer have paid a deposit of €100, the company adds. If these customers wish to cancel, and notify Irish Ferries more than six weeks ahead of departure, "we will not deduct outstanding amounts as per their booking conditions, and they will receive a credit for future travel for their deposit and/or the balance paid."

In some cases, balance collection has been delayed an additional week.

Under EU Regulation No. 1777/2010, if a ferry sailing is cancelled or delayed by more than 90 minutes, passengers have a right to a full refund or re-routing (read a full Q&A on ferry passenger rights here).

If ferries continue to sail, they are not obliged to offer these options.

Acknowledging the travel restrictions, Irish Ferries says it has extended "enhanced flexibility" for bookings with travel up to June 29.

Passengers due to sail before then and who wish to cancel can receive "a full credit for use on future travel" on Irish Sea or French routes at any time up to the end of 2021, it says.

They can also change a booking to a later date for free, though fare differences may apply.

Brittany Ferries, which has now suspended passenger services until June 15, also says it is offering "enhanced flexibility" for passengers booked to travel but who wish to cancel after that date.

Such passengers can amend free of charge (though fare differences apply) or receive a "refund credit note" for a limited time, it says.

"Brittany Ferries has been dealing honestly and transparently with all its customers in these unprecedented times," it said in a statement.

"All options available to customers have been clearly explained - whether that's having to pay the balance on a specific date, as per the booking terms and conditions; moving the sailing on the booking to a later date to postpone paying the balance; or choosing to cancel and receiving a credit note that is valid for two years, while not incurring any cancellation charges."

Stena Line said it is assisting passengers "as much as possible during these unprecedented times" and is asking them to adhere to government guidelines on essential travel.

It has waived amendment fees for bookings up to June 30, and an 'Open Ticket' facility allows customers to put bookings on hold, though they must be changed to a date in 2020 or 2021 before November 30.

Refunds may be applicable depending on the fare type, it adds.

Future ferries: What's changing on board?

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Stena Estrid, which sets sail on the Irish Sea from January 2020.

Stena Estrid, which sets sail on the Irish Sea from January 2020.

Stena Estrid, which sets sail on the Irish Sea from January 2020.

Few people are travelling by sea at the moment, but some ferry services have continued, and companies are reviewing procedures and services in line with health advice and official guidance.

Irish Ferries says such measures include increasing the frequency of onboard cleaning routines, displaying official notices regarding Covid-19 and making hand sanitiser dispensers available.

"Ventilation and air-conditioning systems on board use 100pc fresh air," it adds, while bars, onboard cinemas and Club Class lounge services have been closed "to facilitate social distancing".

Stena Line says it has increased the cleaning and disinfection of “Hand Contact Point Hotspots” such as door handles, access touchpads, telephones in its terminals and onboard ships.

"These are sanitised after each sailing and/or at least three times a day on longer crossings," it says.

Other changes includes 100pc fresh air recycling in ships' air conditioners, and social distancing is "rigorously applied" throughout all onboard areas, including the removal or blocking of seating where appropriate.

Stena has also removed open, self-service food products on its ships, installed Plexiglass screens at till points and counters, and closed gyms, saunas and children’s play areas.

Face masks are only compulsory on its Rosslare-Cherbourg route, due to French Government instructions.

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