THE Government has been called on to resist lobbying to have the rules changed on refunds for passengers whose flights have been cancelled.
And it has emerged that the Government may change the rules to allow airlines issue credit notes instead of refunds.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus have been trying to get customers to accept vouchers in lieu of refunds.
This is despite large numbers of passengers seeking refunds.
On Monday Ryanair customers expressed frustration after being sent vouchers despite applying for refunds weeks ago.
Among those impacted is the presenter of ‘The Last Word’ on TodayFM Matt Cooper.
Airlines have been accused by passengers and travel agents of withholding the refunds and instead offering vouchers or the opportunity to rebook flights for a later date without incurring booking fees, which runs contrary to the Europe-wide EU261/2004 regulation.
Dermott Jewell of the Consumers Association accused the two Irish airlines of lobbying to have the rules changed to allow them to offer vouchers instead of refunds.
Already seven European countries, including Germany and France, are seeking to change the rules to allow vouchers instead of refunds, as they fear airlines based in their countries will collapse if they are forced to pay out refunds.
He said: “I do think it is shocking that airlines are trying to get the law changed on this. It has taken years to put in place these rules, and to change at short notice when we are hopefully suffering a short-term economic shock is wrong.”
He said businesses often have strong lobbying powers.
“I would call on the Government not to change the laws and ask the airlines to engage with their customers and come to some arrangement.”
He said both Ryanair and Aer Lingus/IAG were financially strong, unlike other European airline.
The Department of Transport said airlines are required to refund their customers in circumstances where flights have been cancelled.
But it said the sheer scale and breadth of the impact of Covid-19 are having a very serious impact on the financial position of all companies in the travel sector, from large airlines right through to small, local travel agents.
Other EU member states have introduced credit notes “as a means of resolving this dilemma”.
“The Minister for Transport is considering the credit note as an option in his determination to strike a fair balance between protecting jobs and consumers in these unprecedented circumstances.”
Asked if it was lobbying to have the rules on refunds changed, Ryanair did not comment.
But Ryanair insisted that when flights are cancelled it is giving customers all of the options set out under EU regulations, including free moves and refunds in the form of cash or vouchers.
It said the processing time for cash refunds is taking longer due to the fact that it has received 10 times the usual volume of requests for refunds and it has fewer staff available due to social distancing measures.
The airline said customers who choose not to accept a free move or voucher will be refunded in due course, once the crisis is over.
Aer Lingus said it was declining to comment on changes to EU Regulation 261.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland