Etihad Airways has received a warm reception for its decision to offer refunds to all customers who purchased flight tickets in Australia which were then cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Etihad confirmed it will contact consumers who booked directly with the airline, and Australia-based travel agents, to inform them that affected consumers can elect to receive a refund for a cancelled flight, even if they previously accepted a flight credit.
From 26 March 2020, Etihad’s published COVID-19 rebooking policy did not provide these consumers with the right to a refund for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.
The airline updated this policy on 3 June 2020 to extend offers of refunds for flights scheduled to depart from Australia. Etihad was already offering refunds for flights departing from a number of other regions, including the US and European Union.
Following recent engagement with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s COVID-19 Taskforce, Etihad has now further revised its policy by offering refunds to all consumers in Australia who purchased tickets, regardless of where their flight was scheduled to depart from.
The airline’s conditions of carriage state that a consumer can elect to receive a refund in the event that Etihad fails to operate their flight reasonably according to schedule, for any reason.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the competition watchdog was pleased that Etihad is fulfilling its obligations under its conditions of carriage by offering refunds to thousands of Aussie customers with cancelled flights
“Etihad’s revised policy, and its decision to also offer refunds to consumers who weren’t previously advised of their right to a refund, should serve as a model for other airlines,” he said.
“The protections of the Australian Consumer Law, which extend to all corporations carrying on business in Australia, prohibit making false or misleading representations about a consumer’s right to a refund, including their contractual refund rights.
“Consumers who believe they are entitled to a refund because they booked their fare while in Australia, and who are not contacted by Etihad or their Australian travel agent by 7 August 2020, should contact the business that sold them their ticket.”
Darren Rudd, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, said Etihad’s refund decision is a welcome development for agents.
“Since the pandemic began, travel agents have been working around the clock on behalf of their clients using their experience and connections to navigate the complex and often frustrating process of refunds and credits,” he said.
“Each of the 150-plus airlines operating in Australia have their own terms and conditions, and many of them no longer have on-the-ground support.
“It can be an overwhelming process that can take eight to 12 hours even for a professional travel agent.
“Add in the fact that this applies to every third-party supplier from hotel to tour operator, and the time and patience required amplifies whether you’re a travel agent or a consumer trying to sort this out directly.
“This is a process that travel agents are predominantly not being paid for.”
Etihad’s revised position on refunds is similar to the move made by Qantas in June following pressure from the ACCC.
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