As dozens of airlines across the world are being criticised for not giving refunds for cancelled flights amidst the corona virus crisis, LOT Polish Airlines has set the right example with a customer-friendly refund and rebooking scheme.
With tens of thousands of planes being grounded across the world, passenger traffic grinding to a halt and national borders being closed, there aren’t many industries which are as hardly hit by the corona virus crisis than the airline industry.
Needless to say, airlines have been struggling greatly as their income sources have dried up while still needing to pay a lot of fixed costs such as aircraft maintenance and salaries.
Most airline companies therefore had no other choice than to lay off big chunks of their pilots and cabin crew for an indefinite time, in what must be a disaster for both employers and employees alike.
An extra headache for airlines are passengers demanding refunds now that their future flights are cancelled. For some airlines this creates problems as they do not have the immediate cash flow to issue everyone with an immediate refund.
While some airlines have been given loans by national governments, some airlines refuse their customers a refund outright. There are airlines which try to drag on the process by only wanting to give a refund many months after into the future, while other airlines do not even offer the possibility for a refund but only give a free rebooking to a later date or an airline voucher as refund instead.
Although airline companies are free to offer their customers such alternatives, customers are not obliged to accept them. According to EU passenger rights regulations, airline customers have the right for a full refund if their flight is cancelled (if their ticket is on an EU-based airline or departing from an European airport).
This crisis is however so severe that some airlines still play hard ball trying to hold onto their cash reserves for as long as possible.
The Good, Bad and Ugly
As some European airlines are already – and rightfully – being shamed in the news for refusing their passengers the option of a full refund (Hello British Airways! Hello Easyjet and Wizz Air!) I want to add a bit of positivism to the discussion by highlighting what I think is an airline doing everything right.
That airline is LOT Polish Airlines.
LOT Polish Airlines
Just like most other airlines across the world, also LOT Polish Airlines has halted all its traffic with the exception of a few repatriation flights being operated to bring Polish nationals back home.
The airline has an incredibly generous waiver for flight refunds or rebookings. For most travellers, this means basically a choice out of two options:
– A refund of your originally bought ticket with the full ticket price being repaid, or;
– Changing the dates of your ticket to any future date
While this in itself might be nothing special, the generosity in which the second option (rebooking) is being implemented is worthy of some praise.
Not only do passengers have the choice to change the date of their ticket, they are even allowed to change it to a completely different destination than initially booked. If this destination happened to be more expensive than the original ticket (eg. changing a Warsaw-Paris flight to a Warsaw-Chicago flight), the airline will also give you a 200 PLN (44 EUR) discount on the surcharge levied.
Thirty percent discount
Best of all is that passengers who opt for rebooking their ticket instead of asking for a refund get a 30 percent discount voucher valid for any future booking on LOT Polish Airlines, valid until 30th April 2021.
This is a win-win situation for both the airline and the passenger. For many passengers, it might suddenly make a rebooking of their flight much more attractive than a refund. As the cash flow situation right now is a more critical issue than some passengers travelling with a huge discount in the future, it is also a win for LOT Polish Airlines.
My own experience
In my case, I had a ticket on the LOT Polish Airlines inaugural flight from Bucharest to Budapest which was set to start on the 31st of March.
LOT Polish Airlines has their hub in the Polish capital of Warsaw, but has since a few years invested in expanding flights from Budapest as well under the Open Skies Treaty which allows airlines to set up bases outside of their home country.
LOT already operates flights from Budapest to Warsaw, Krakow, London, New York and Seoul, and was set to expand this with flights from Budapest to Belgrade, Brussels, Bucharest, Prague, Sofia and Stuttgart. Needless to say, the corona/COVID-19 crisis has temporarily halted these expansion plans.
For my Bucharest-Budapest return ticket I only paid 40 EUR in a special LOT promotion offer a month or two ago. Unsurprisingly, my flight on the 31st of March got cancelled, so I called the LOT Polish Airlines customer service today. After just a five minutes wait, I was helped by an extremely friendly and helpful agent, who within minutes rescheduled my flight to a date in autumn.
Best of all, she also issued me a 30 percent discount coupon for a future LOT flight – which can be used on all flights offered in the LOT network, in all classes of travel.
A 40 EUR flight ticket has thus basically given me hundreds of euros in future savings. Let’s say that I will book a LOT ticket in business class from Budapest to Seoul for 1400 EUR. Using the discount code, the price of my flight would be brought back to just 980 EUR. That’s a discount of 420 EUR – or just over 10 times the price I paid for my original flight!
While some airlines are not being very forthcoming to their customers, LOT Polish Airlines has aced their reply to the corona crisis. Not only was calling them and getting a real human on the line to reschedule my flight super easy, I also really appreciate the discount coupon being given.
Such a gesture is only beneficial for the airline, as not only does it limit the amount of people demanding a refund, but it also creates satisfied customers and loyalty, which will only help the airline in the future. Well done, LOT!