Disappointed travellers, whose Air Malta flights were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, say the national airline is ignoring them and not issuing the refunds they are legally entitled to.

Over the past weeks, several would-be passeners who have been chasing the airline for a refund have filed complaints with the Consumer Association. Many have been contacting Times of Malta to express their frustration with others venting on social media.

Comments reacting to a recent Air Malta Facebook post – featuring a jet that was painted in retro livery – took the discussion back to the refunds. One angry man wrote: “Better give refunds to your customers instead of paying over the top for some paint.”

People spoke about being ignored by the airline. One woman wrote: “I am waiting for my refund because my flight was cancelled in March… and I have still not been reimbursed by Air Malta... I have the impression of being stalled.”

Another woman wrote: “Stop ignoring your customers. There is no answer since March 13th; is that normal? You offer vouchers on your site, but do not respond to e-mails and ignore customer e-mails.”

Last month, an Air Malta spokesperson said that anyone whose Air Malta flight was cancelled by the airline due to the coronavirus pandemic had four options: a cash refund, book a new trip within a year, book the same flight when they are ready to travel again or get a travel voucher.

Know your rights

According to EU law, when a flight is cancelled by the airline, the consumer is entitled to a refund, said Consumer Association president Benny Borg Bonello.

This is reflected in Maltese legislation where, according to the Legal Notice 80 of 2020, the payment made by the consumer would have to be reimbursed within six months.

“If a consumer booked the flight with the airline directly, the airline is responsible to reimburse the consumer. If the flight is part of a package tour, it is the travel agent who is responsible for reimbursements,” he said.

A number of airlines, Air Malta included, are offering the consumer a choice: ask for a refund or accept a voucher.  This is backed by the European Commission that issued a common rulebook for voluntary travel vouchers.

Industry sources explained that refunding all tickets would bankrupt airlines, which is why airlines around the world are creating other attractive options.

Tour operators are ‘misleading’ customers

Over the past weeks, the Consumer Association received “a large number of complaints” regarding refunds – most of which concerned package tours, Borg Bonello said.  

“We are highly disappointed that many tour operators do not inform the consumer of their rights and give the consumer the impression that their only right is a voucher. Others are giving the impression that it is the airline which responsible for the refund and not they,” he said.

Regarding airlines, he said, the main complaint was that many did not receive any answer once they applied for a refund.

“Lately, many consumers expect a refund immediately.  However, as noted above, the legal notice stipulates that refunds are to be made within six months of the request to refund,” he said.

Times of Malta sent questions to Air Malta on May 13 asking, among other things, how many prospective passengers had requested refunds, how many requests were outstanding and why the airline was delaying payment?

No official replies were received by the time of writing.

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