Travel Innovation Group Bulletin 2 from Michael Edwards, Managing Director - 7 April 2020
Our first bulletin was well received – in particular the information and timelines surrounding how we plan to deliver Refunds to you. This week we will start sending the Bank Transfers for those Refunds processed Up until 15 March.
The trade is rightly not happy that the FCO have recently issued an ‘indefinite’ advisory not to travel for ‘non-essential travel’. This is causing considerable confusion and does not support the industry. As with many of you we have spoken to, we hope this matter is corrected soonest. We are also protesting on our and your behalf - to many of the airlines and IATA (see point 3 below) where their policies are not aligned with standard practice. We are having occasional wins where individual airlines have amended their policy such as Qatar Airways, Qantas, Air Canada, Turkish Airlines and Malaysia Airlines plus we have some airlines agreeing extensions to their original Exchange Travel Credit’s limits. British Airways agreed to extend timescales for reissues to take place (72 hours from 24 hours). We will continue to update you on what changes.
We are also still working on a new telephone solution to enable us to return to full telephone service as we are now all homeworking.
As it is Easter this weekend, the next Bulletin update will be on Tuesday 14 April (unless there is an important update that requires sharing in the meantime).
I hope you find Bulletin 2 useful.
REFUNDS (IT, Seat Only, Cruise and Published fares) - further information
Some positive news. We are getting ahead in processing the Refund requests as we know how important getting these Refunds back to you is. This means, by 15 April, we will have processed all Refund requests received by now for travel to end of April. We have therefore updated the table below.
Refund Timeline Table (also see note below regarding Offline BSP Refunds) Amendments from Bulletin 1 in red
On the day we have processed your Refund requests, you will receive a confirmation email from us. For Aviate, this will also confirm which method the airline allows us to make the refund claim. For Lime/BA, all refunds for British Airways, which will be considered in these table time frames in all cases.
If the Refund has been processed with the airlines via the ‘GDS’ it will be paid to you as per the timelines in the table.
Offline BSP claim
If, due to the airlines policy, it must be processed via the offline BSP facility, we are more in the hands of the airlines as to when we will receive these funds from them. Unfortunately, these may take some considerable time with some airlines estimating between 12 to 16 weeks.
Virgin Atlantic Flightstore/Virgin Atlantic Offline BSP Refunds Process.
Please note as from 01 April, Virgin Atlantic have amended their Refund process and all Refunds now have to be processed via the Offline BSP facility. As stated above, this means we cannot confirm when our refund claims will be view and authorized by Virgin – and when you will receive the Refund. We are in constant liaison with Virgin Atlantic and, if and when we get a better understanding of timelines, we will update you.
All British airways Refunds will be paid as per the timelines, in the table.
We hope that, with this information including what we will detail on the individual confirmation emails, you will be better able to plan and manage your customer expectations on when their Refund may be received.
*We will need these clear funds from IATA/the airlines before processing your Refunds to you.
Please note this extract from ‘An Open Letter to the Travel Agent Community’ statement by Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO International Air Transport Association (IATA).
…“However, on the issue of airlines withholding ticket refunds in the BSP, or issuing
vouchers in lieu of refunds, I’m afraid that the message I have to deliver is not one
that will provide comfort. Our industry is experiencing a critical liquidity crisis. Most
airlines are spending more cash in reimbursing their passengers than they receive in
new booking revenues. We recently estimated the industry’s liability in this area at
$35 billion. In this context, airlines’ most urgent need is to keep their remaining
liquidity to pay salaries and face their fixed costs. It is practically impossible for
industry players to find sufficient financial means to keep the air travel value chain
operating in the short time that airlines have before facing bankruptcy. 2 April 2020.
In this context, we believe the best answer for both airlines and travel agents is for
regulators to ease requirements for cash refunds and allow airlines to issue vouchers
instead. These vouchers can be managed through the IATA Billing and Settlement Plan
(BSP) using processes and procedures that already exist today. This would remove the
pressure that is currently on agents to issue cash refunds at a time when airlines are
making decisions based on their own need to preserve cash. IATA is willing to engage
in open and collaborative discussions with the travel agency community represented in
the Passenger Agency Programme Global Joint Council to formulate a structure for these
vouchers that will bring value for airlines, travel agents and consumers. We are grateful that
regulators in Canada, Colombia and the Netherlands have recognized the necessity of this
approach and we hope others will do the same.
While I know that this is not the answer that you want to hear, it’s important that
you understand that IATA is working hard to find a solution to this problem that
will enable us to endure and move forward. People want to travel, for the horizons it
broadens and the connections it enables and maintains. These are dark days for our
industry, but we are resilient, and we will get through them, together.“
Alexandre de Juniac
Director General and CEO
International Air Transport Association
Alexandre’s full statement can be read here
We believe this extract relates to and ‘defends’ IATA airlines’ position of issuing the vouchers (Exchange Travel Credits) rather than Refunds as normally appropriate. Any previously and currently allowable Refunds are being processed by us and we expect to receive these re-payments as per the details in point 2.
KEY AIRLINE NEWS
British Airways Groups policies and refunds
BA have recently extended their policy which now includes bookings that are travelling up to and including the 30 June. The team are busy working on these matters.
The Aviate Groups team have been working hard and have now contacted all agents who have a group booking with us travelling up to and including 31 May. As groups work differently to your individual fares, many of the airlines have released separate Group policies, unfortunately some have not, so we are having to work on a booking by booking basis for these. We are also finding these are constantly changing so the information you receive from us can change.
We understand that many of you have queries on bookings that are not yet covered by airline policies. For example, deposit and balance extensions, although the Groups team are doing their upmost to obtain these extensions from our airline partners - these bookings are bound by the normal terms and conditions, meaning that sometimes an extension cannot be granted. Should you wish to discuss your booking with a member of the groups team, please do email through your booking reference and your contact number and a member of the team will call you back.
Emirates – unused inbound tickets
We have lobbied Emirates specifically for a change to their policy for unused Inbound tickets. This is in light of some of your customers having to purchase return journeys on other airlines when Emirates cancelled their booked flights. More information to follow if matters change.
Offline BSP Refunds to US destinations had disallowed the refund of XF taxes. After consultation with IATA, this has now been resolved and bookings will be requested for refund in full.
FURLOUGHED STAFF - Who to contact
As of 01 April we furloughed 30% of our staff across Lime, Aviate and Calrom (our technology company) into our Furlough Team. Whilst they are unable to work, we are staying in regular contact with them as they are important members of the team. For those of us who remain in our roles, during this crisis, our focus remains on our customers generally providing points of contact and delivering our services as usual. Our Operations and Reservations departments are well staffed and working round the clock to provide service to our tour operators. We will soon be fully caught up with the current workload.
Naomi Moizer continues to lead our Sales and Partnerships Team, supported by Mariela, Stacey and Chloe. The team is in touch with many of you - often in virtual meetings - and are there to help also. They can be reached on email@example.com.
Rachel Greenough is also available for all matters Virgin Atlantic Flightstore and Virgin Voyages. Rachel can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Basically, we are not going to let this virus stop us delivering our service to you.
KEY TOPICS FOR BULLETIN 3 - 14 APRIL 2020
Exchange Travel Credits - More on how best to use these.
Telephones - Update on new system to enable our phone system to operate on a homeworking basis.