Bulletin 7 from Michael Edwards, Managing Director
Well the news of the effects of Coronavirus keeps coming.
This week, Virgin announced the closure of their Gatwick operations with a reduction in fleet and a focus now for the future purely on Heathrow and Manchester departures. This does not mean a cessation of all their current destinations they serve from Gatwick but a shift of operations to Heathrow. We are of course all hoping our key and most popular routes will be retained. BA, Virgin and others are now planning to make considerable job cuts and, I think, we all know the travel business will not be the same for years to come. And now Comair in South Africa have announced plans for financial restructuring. We will all have to adapt.
The Travel Innovation Group and our teams are uniquely well placed to adapt, as necessary. Lime has a long-standing, strong and unique partnership with BA and its sister airlines. Aviate is the leading UK specialist, tour operator consolidator and a major leisure supplier to most of the world’s key airlines. We also have a significant technology company Calrom that develops all our technologies – which has enabled us, during this crisis introduce new user and behind-the-scenes system features to assist us and deliver services to our customers, where possible.
I am pleased to confirm that from Wednesday 13 May, we will be reopening our telephone lines for our UK customers. Thank you for your patience so far. As I have previously mentioned in these Bulletins, our telephone system does not have the functionality to operate in a homeworking environment and therefore this has precluded us from easily switching back on our phones. We have considered things carefully and in line with government guidelines, we will be reopening our offices for a select number of staff who will now operate the Customer Support phone lines, whilst their colleagues remain at home dealing with emails, etc. As this will be a select team only to enable us to manage social distancing rules etc, then please, only use the phones for critical calls. I hope this continues to show our endeavours to providing as wide a service as possible to our customers, as soon as practical, during this crisis. Full information in section 5.
2. Refunds - Flights
As you’ll know from previous Bulletins - and from receiving your refund payments by now - we have had a solid structure in place for refunding your IT, Published, Seat Only tickets where due.
Exceptions: As previously highlighted, if, due to the airline’s policy, a refund must be processed via the Offline BSP facility (this method is confirmed on your refund email confirmation), we are in the hands of the airlines as to when we will receive these funds from them which will affect when we can make the payment back to you the tour operator. Unfortunately, these may take considerable time with some airlines estimating between 12 to 16 weeks.
*We will need these clear funds from IATA/the airlines before processing your Refunds to you.
3. Refunds - Groups
We understand that getting back funds paid for Group flights that subsequently don’t operate is key for your business. Due to their more complicated process, refunds for group bookings have been harder to place into a structured cycle, however I can now confirm the timelines for both Lime and Aviate (inc Virgin Atlantic Flightstore). Our Groups and Finance teams are endeavouring to work to these schedules to get monies back to you, but there are many complications that will affect individual bookings:
- Many airlines are forcing refunds offline via BSPLink so they can authorize them individually. This will significantly slow down the refund timeline. We estimate refunds made via BSPLink will take 10 to 12 weeks to be authorized and then be paid back to us. You can see a list if airlines and their refund methods in our summary reference guide here
- Groups’ refund policies and processes vary from airline to airline, and airlines have changed policies as the situation has developed. Your individual group Terms will have been confirmed to you at the point of group cancellation.
- Deposits may be held by airlines in different formats (ie EMDs) and we have to apply for these offline directly to the airline.
- Some airlines are not dealing with Group refunds currently, making it impossible to estimate timelines for these at all.
Lime British Airways Groups refund timeline
Notes: This timeline covers all stages of Group bookings – deposited, full paid and ticketed.
Refunds applicable to the relevant commercial policy/T&C’s in place at the time of cancellation for refund values.
*Dates are based on BA payment for refunds and presume monies are refunded to Lime by BA in line with this cycle
British Airways Group policy extension
British Airways have updated the travel dates that unticketed Groups refunds are permitted on, to include
bookings travelling between 01 July and 31 August 2020. Cancellation requests must be made by the airline’s
deadline of 22 May, and in order to achieve this we ask that you raise the cancellation request with us 48 hours
prior to this date to allow time for our team to action it within the deadline. Unticketed Groups bookings not
cancelled by this deadline will be as per Standard Terms & Conditions. Further details on BA policy can be found
on Lime’s Coronavirus Support webpage >
Aviate airline Groups refund timeline (inc VAFS)
Notes: This timeline covers all stages of Group bookings – deposited, full paid and ticketed.
Refunds which require airline authorisation (via BSPLink or other offline method) fall outside of this process.
*Dates are based on IATA payments for GDS refunds and monies are refunded to Aviate by IATA in line with this cycle. BSPLink payments will take longer.
4. Key airline news
- Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic has announced plans to reshape and resize its business to ensure that is it fit for the future. In a communication from Lee Haslett, VP UK & European Sales, he explained that these include moving its flying programme from London Gatwick to London Heathrow, with the intention of retaining its slot portfolio at London Gatwick, so it can return in line with customer demand. It will continue to operate services from its northern base in Manchester. The expectation is that Virgin Atlantic will operate 60% of its pre-Covid flying by the end of 2020.
The airline is setting to establish itself as a sustainability leader by flying only wide-body, twin engine aircraft, and retiring its fleet of 747s. By 2022 the simplified, greener fleet will comprise of 36 twin engine aircraft reducing CO2/RTK emissions by an estimated further 10%, building on the 18% efficiency already achieved between 2007-2019.
As soon as we are able to, we will update further on the impacts to schedules through the remainder of 2020, and on our popular Out of Date Range programme for 2021.
- South African Airways
Aviate are expecting to hear significant developments in the next few days on the future of South African Airways (SAA). In response to what SAA might look like in the future, the Ministry of Public Enterprises have said:
“It will not be the old SAA. Rather it will be the beginning of a new journey to a new restructured airline, which will be a proud flagship for South Africa.”
It has also been confirmed that SA Airlink (4Z), have ended their interline agreement with South African Airways (SA) as of 6 May. SA Airlink will no longer accept passengers issued on South African Airways tickets for an SA Airlink operated flight. All tickets issued directly on SA Airlink tickets are unaffected. We will be in contact with you directly about all affected bookings.
- Air Mauritius
As of 22 April 2020, Air Mauritius entered Voluntary Administration with the objective being to safeguard the interests of the company and continue flying once the Covid-19 crisis is over. The administrators have 77 days to submit a plan for the future of Air Mauritius however the airline believes this will have been formulated and submitted before the 8 July 2020 deadline. This plan will also have the backing of the Mauritian government.
Air Mauritius have confirmed that bookings, tickets and EMD’s will be valid when flights resume. Their Covid-19 policy remains in place and gives passengers the flexibility to rebook their travel on Air Mauritius in the future.
Comair is under business rescue in South Africa as of 05 May. The business rescue process is reported to build on the turnaround plan that Comair management was already implementing, aiming to preserve cash, cuts costs, dispose of non-performing assets and strengthen the balance sheet. In a statement, available on their website, the airline is reported to be confident that they will be better positioned to serve the flying public as the business rescue plan develops.
Again, we will keep you updated as matters transpire.
Whilst we wait for future news on airlines and whilst we wish to maintain support for all airlines as they work through the challenges of this crisis, it may be prudent to protect your customers on our other airlines to maintain your options.
5. Telephone service
We are now in a position to enable some of our operations team to work from our office from Wednesday 13 May and will now operate the Customer Support phone lines to handle critical calls whilst the majority of our operations continue remotely. I’m confident that we can do this safely, with complete adherence to the government’s guidelines on distancing and other precautions.
Whilst I hope that this will be a welcome extension of our current communication lines, please consider our primary contact channel remains email, as it represents the most efficient way of managing the enquiries, we are currently handling. The support in doing so is enabling us to typically resolve email general enquiries within 1-2 hours, and refund processing confirmations within 24 hours. Therefore, from next Wednesday please only call our operation teams for matters of a critical nature that can’t be handled by email or online chat. Also refrain from using this channel for updates on refund statuses which I’m satisfied are being issued within the timeline and process that I have laid out in section 2 of this bulletin, and (for non-groups flights) in previous issues.
The phonelines for urgent enquiries to Flights and Groups Customer Service teams across Lime, Aviate and Virgin Atlantic Flightstore will be open Monday-Friday 09:00-17:30 via their usual phone numbers. Our Saturday service will remain email only.
6. System functions update
Following our system development in March and April to enable you greater self-management of Exchange Travel Credits (ETC), we have introduced a further feature to streamline this process.
Now instead of having to email us to ticket your disruption bookings, you can request ticketing within your account from the booking display page using the new 'Price & Ticket' button.
Full guidelines on using ETCs, including this new feature can be found here >
I do hope you found Bulletin 7 of benefit. Please note, future editions will be published regularly as required rather than on a set day of the week, so that we can communicate key news quicker as it becomes available.