Travel ban will not affect ticket holders
Thousands of consumers who had to cancel their air travel due to Covid-19 do not have to worry about their refunds or be compelled to take vouchers or postpone their vacation.
The Consumer Goods and Service Ombudsman (CGSO), Magauta Mphahlele, said in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), consumers have the right to cancel any advance booking, reservations or order due to circumstances
beyond their control.
Mphahlele said the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant travel bans and restriction on gatherings has resulted in floods of cancellations of flights, accommodation and services.
She said there was widespread confusion about the rights and duties of the parties affected in respect of the
She said CGSO empathised with business who stood to carry massive losses due to cancellation. "Therefore, we urge all parties to act reasonably and fairly as well as work together to minimise the impact on the economy and household," Mphahlele said.
She said the CGSO has been flooded with complaints from consumers who were offered vouchers instead of a full refund as their trips were cancelled due to the national lockdown.
Mphahlele said section 17(5) of the CPA allowed a consumer to cancel the booking without a penalty due to illness, hospitalisation or death.
She said based on this section of the CPA, it was clear that the consumers were not to be penalised due to illness or death. While many have not been tested for Covid-19, the restrictions imposed by the president and health department was treating everyone as being "ill", hence the restriction, Mphahlele said.
"As a result it is the interpretation of the CGSO that the consumers are entitled to a full refund when they cancel due to the travel bans and restrictions on gathering," Mphahlele said.
"Suppliers cannot impose a blanket on no refund, voucher policy or other alternative.
"Further, the suppliers should not use the disaster to circumvent the law or unnecessarily inflate the price of the goods and service," Mphahlele said.
In support of the CGSO, Otto de Vries, the CEO of Association of South African Travel Agency (Asata), said the delayed or refusal to refund the consumer was in contravention of the CPA.
"Any issuing or redeeming of vouchers as a result of Covid-19 should not
incur additional cost to the consumer as their result is involuntary," De Vries said.
He said Asata has made the refund and voucher policy which would last until December 31.
He said Asata supported the airlines at this difficult time and that they were best positioned to enlighten consumers as to the refund and voucher policies offered by the airlines.
"However, the final decision must be left to the consumer, and the consumer must be offered the choice to a refund," De Vries said.
He said in terms of the CPA, the suppliers should extend full refunds for customers requesting them.
"The total amount paid by the consumer must be refunded in lieu of a credit for future travel," De Vries said.
He said Asata did not condone the issuing of insecure vouchers as an alternative to consumer rights, particularly in the case of SAA which recently
announced that it could only offer vouchers, he said.
"As we are all aware, all passengers who have booked fights with SAA have been given three options, none of which include the option of a full refund... the refund should be legally possible even when the supplier is in financial distress," De Vries said.
He said where vouchers are offered and accepted, they should be guaranteed to protect the potential bankruptcy of an airline.
"Even if, after 12 months from the original departure date, the customer chooses a refund in cash, and the airline is unable to provide it, or already insolvent, the voucher must be protected by a guaranteed fund," De Vries said.
He said Asata has recommended that travel agents should be involved in the process of establishing refunds and voucher policies to ensure they were able to serve their customers.
This means that the airlines will have to reinstate automated ticket charge capacity through Global Distribution System and update automated process with airline policies on refund voucher to streamline the process, De Vries said
"If the customer booked their tickets online through the agent, they should be able to return to their agent to process the refund or voucher instead of the airline website," De Vries said.
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