Aer Lingus and Ryanair are under pressure from travel agents to stop charging “change fees” to people who want to postpone bookings because of the coronavirus outbreak.
he plea from the Irish Travel Agents Association comes as the industry suffers a “significant drop” in business and the travelling public face substantial losses if they cancel a booking.
Many other airlines, including British Airways, Flybe.com and American Airlines, have already announced such waivers.
However, ITAA CEO Pat Dawson told Independent.ie that most suppliers had responded positively, “but the two main players out of Ireland have not yet”.
He said the response from Aer Lingus to a letter sent yesterday, was that it was not company policy at the moment and Ryanair had not yet replied.
Mr Dawson said someone seeking to postpone a trip could face a higher fare for a new date, as well as a “change fee”, which could be of the order of €50.
He said the ITAA letter was effectively asking travel industry suppliers, including airlines and cruise companies, “step up to the mark and help the public out”, subject to certain restrictions. As an example, he suggested a “change fee” waiver could cover bookings made for the month of March.
He pointed out that the Aer Lingus position was in contrast to the decision at British Airways, which is part of the same IAG group.
The ITAA letter says many travellers are choosing to cancel or miss flights rather than risk travelling to an affected country, and many were also becoming increasingly hesitant to book a holiday overseas.
“We have all noticed a significant drop in bookings, which is a major concern” the letter adds.
The ITAA suggests a partnership approach to mitigate the potential issues, and asks the companies to which the letter is addressed to offer the travelling public incentives to continue booking holidays.
“We are mindful that consumers value the ability to book holidays in advance and with confidence. One such idea would be suspending change fees and allowing clients to cancel or change their trips without penalties, perhaps with some date and time restrictions on waivers.
“A number of airlines such as British Airways, Flybe.com and American Airlines have already undertaken these measures.
“Reassuring travellers who are concerned by the spread of the virus that their travel plans can be changed or modified would lead to a boost in customer confidence and could stimulate sales.
“As an industry we must work together and strive to protect our mutual businesses, to move forward through these uncertain times with a positive outlook.”
This comes as Emirates announced this evening that they will remove change/reissue fees for all new tickets issued.
A spokesperson said in a statement: "Due to the changing situation of COVID-19, we have updated our waiver policy to allow our passengers the choice to change travel dates or reissue their ticket without penalty.
"Emirates will waive change and reissue fees on all new tickets issued on/from Thursday 05 March to Tuesday 31 March 2020."
An Aer Lingus spokesperson told Independent.ie that the company “continues to keep what is a dynamic situation under constant review.”
Independent.ie has also contacted Ryanair for a comment.