Who is to blame for the refund backlog?
Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is the nodal and premier Travel & Tourism association in India. Today, Jyoti Mayal, President of TAAI, issued the following statement in response to why travel agents and tour operators are unable to process refunds. She stated:
Due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, airlines have stopped operations. Globally, the commercial passenger aviation business has come to a standstill. The worst affected are our members, who are engaged in the business of airline ticketing, package tours, hotel reservations, sightseeing bookings, etc., being the Travel and Tourism sector.
Due to the travel restrictions placed by governments across the world, customers/travelers want to cancel their bookings and claim back refunds for tickets booked by them. The global crisis is scary and to remain healthy and safe people want to ensure they have adequate money to survive as the recession has set in. Hence, travelers want their blocked monies back for the un-utilized services of travel, which shall not be undertaken by them.
We state that the travel agents/tour operators have paid 100% to the airlines, for all tickets that have been issued, to date. Our member agents are wanting to process the refunds, for the tickets issued by them for their customers, but the majority of IATA member airlines, have disabled the refunding mechanism on the GDS systems for agents. Agents are now required to manually process refunds through Refund Authority with IATA, whereby the airlines are being non-committal on the date and amount of repayment of airfare. Most Low-Cost Carriers too are not refunding the airfares and are creating a credit shell favoring the passenger, to be used for future dates.
TAAI has raised strong objections on the same with all airlines, as well as with IATA. We have asked the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to direct the airlines to refund all monies.
Most airlines are offering credit vouchers in the name of the passengers which are valid for 365 days and a couple of them are offering credit vouchers for up to 760 days. Further, additional funds of the agents are blocked with the airlines which have been paid by way of advances in float accounts of low-cost carriers operating in India.
Therefore, all refunds, credits, vouchers shall be given to the customer/traveler, by our member agencies, only after the same is received from the airlines/IATA.
TAAI – Vice President, Jay Bhatia, informed that post-April 15, 2020, if things come to normalcy, the refund process, if authorized by the airlines, may take from 15 days to at least 3 months, depending on the airline and how the situation across the globe remains. Currently, most of the airlines are not giving waivers on the cancellation charges. They are not refunding the amounts in cash. They are only giving credit vouchers favoring the passenger, whereby name change shall not be permitted.
During this time difficult time of survival, we are working closely with MoCA and IATA daily, to find a suitable solution, to resolve the refund issue, in the interest of the passenger, along with support from the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH).
He further stated that, our members have been told to inform their customers/travelers, who desire to refund their tickets, that they shall be updated as soon as cash refunds/credits/vouchers are received from the respective airlines/IATA, for the tickets issued and also assure them that the same shall be given. Until then all are required to remain patient and understand the issues of financial crunch faced by the industry.