Travel, 24.04.2020

Will I get my money back and when can I book a flight again?

Holiday planning is far from easy at the moment. The uncertainties caused by the Corona crisis are creating many questions for consumers – partly because travel agencies and airlines often have different solutions at their disposal.

My flight is cancelled: will I get my money back without any problems?
No, whereby this is being handled differently depending on the airline. Most recently, there have been increasing reports of customers waiting for a refund for their cancelled flight. Swiss says: "We are not currently able to process refunds on any of our channels." A refund form was previously available on their homepage. The reason for the step is the large number of customer enquiries. Swiss is asking its customers, including travel agencies, to contact the respective service centres for business and individual customers.

And what about rebooking?
Swiss is a little more flexible here than with refunds. Regardless of the price of the fare booked, passengers can keep their ticket and use it for a new booking at the same ticket value up to the end of April 2021. The ticket thereby becomes a voucher. Those who are able to choose a new travel date by December will also receive a discount of CHF 50. If the flight becomes more expensive for whatever reason, however, a surcharge will probably be required. Anyone who insists on the refund – which is the right of the customer – will probably have to wait several months for payment. Once again, the case varies depending on the airline.

When can I book flights to the USA again?
In theory, today, and often very cheaply. The question is whether they will take place, however, and whether and how the US government will further restrict entry requirements. A round-trip flight from Zurich to San Francisco from 1st to the 16th June is currently available at Swiss for CHF 880 in the Economy Saver category. These flights usually cost massively more in the summer. In addition, the US has virtually stopped issuing visas worldwide since the end of March. What is clear at the moment is that Swiss has extended its minimum timetable until 17 May. Until then, it only uses one long-haul aircraft for three weekly flights to New York, and five planes for European cities from Geneva and Zurich.

And if I want to book a summer flight to Asia or elsewhere?
Here, too, there is a risk that today's entry rules will remain in place or be tightened up. In Singapore, for example, no short-term visitors are allowed to enter and transit. Only locals with Singaporean citizenship and permanent residents are allowed to enter. It is also unclear to what extent the flight plan will be carried out. Thai Airways has temporarily ceased operations worldwide. If the booked flight does not take place, one is dependent on the goodwill of the respective airline, which may differ between airlines.

The majority of Swiss aircraft are currently stationary. It is unclear today when they will take off again on a large scale.

Will I get my money back when I book a package holiday?
According to the Package Travel Act, there is an obligation to repay – but this is likely to lead to a wave of bankruptcies, as we hear from the industry, as the airlines are not refunding the air fares to travel agencies for the time being. There is also a dispute among travel agencies on this issue. Their SRV association recommends its members to suspend cash refunds to customers, as reported by the industry portal Travel News. According to this, for the departure period up to 15 June 2020, they are only to reimburse to the customers those funds actually received, i.e. funds that have not yet been paid to the various service providers, or which may have already been reimbursed and can also be passed on.

Who is opposing this?
The Migros travel subsidiary Hotelplan, for example, is in favour of a full and timely refund of cancelled package holidays. Hotelplan has written to its agents: "Our end customers book their trips with Swiss travel agencies and tour operators because they rightly expect trust and security here. We have to meet these expectations now more than ever! With many online booking portals, it is currently difficult to reach customer service at all.

Who can I contact in case of doubt?
The Ombudsman Office of the Swiss travel industry. "We can often mediate, but not always," says Ombudsman Franco Muff. Those affected who do not receive the necessary assistance from either the online provider or the airline can also try contacting the Federal Office of Civil Aviation by e-mail, and this includes passengers who have purchased a ticket from a foreign airline with a place of departure in Switzerland. The authority can then intervene directly with the airline.

When will aviation return to normality?
That is the big question in the aviation industry at the moment. Swiss CEO Thomas Klühr recently ventured a forecast that 75% of the usual flight volume in Switzerland could be reached again by the end of the year. In a recent interview with CH Media, Airport Zurich CEO Stephan Widrig did not dare to make an exact forecast. However, it’s likely to take longer for normality to return. "All international destinations need entry permits." The current travel restrictions are unlikely to disappear so quickly. He expects European traffic to recover first, while intercontinental flights are likely to take longer.

Will there be a mask obligation on board in the future?
A concept paper from the German aviation industry proposes a mask requirement for passengers, for the time being for six weeks. During check-in and boarding, the necessary distance requirement should continue to be followed. There is no requirement for masks in Switzerland. In an interview with the "NZZ", Zurich Airport CEO Stephan Widrig emphasizes that the air filters in the aircraft are high-quality and are better than in some public transport systems. A keen awareness of personal hygiene and appropriate protective measures is needed. "But you can't demand a two-metre distance on planes." Easyjet CEO Johan Lundgren, for example, called for the central seats to be left vacant in rows of three. However, this is likely to be economically difficult to implement, as this measure would mean that airlines would miss out on many bookings and would make the flights hardly profitable.