Ryanair has banned some passengers who have claimed a corona-related refund from flying with the airline again until they pay back the money.
According to multiple British newspapers, Ryanair has put passengers who have claimed a COVID-19 related refund on their no-fly list.
The passengers in question had initiated chargebacks to recover the costs of their Ryanair flight tickets when they found themselves unable to travel during the corona pandemic.
Although the passengers were granted the refund by their credit card companies, Ryanair executives vehemently disagreed with this, claiming the airline has always been a “no-refunds airline”.
The Irish low-cost airline reportedly demanded the passengers to repay the money, telling them that they would otherwise be put on Ryanair’s blacklist and unable to fly. One passenger was reportedly told he had to repay the money just hours before he was set to depart on another Ryanair flight.
Needless to say, the news story has caused quite some outrage in the UK and among travellers across the world.
The company MoneySavingExpert (MSE), one of the biggest financial information websites in the UK, was one of the organisations which uncovered the refund scandal.
MSE deputy editor Guy Anker said: “This is absolutely outrageous behaviour from Ryanair. It essentially had these passengers over a barrel shortly before their holiday at a point which turned excitement into stress and anxiety.
“To let them book a holiday and only tell them this news at the last minute shows no regard for fellow human beings.”
Despite the outrage and condemnation from consumer rights organisations, Ryanair stood firm in their “no refunds” policy.
A Ryanair spokesperson explained: “Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair’s terms and conditions agreed by the customer at the time of booking.
“They state that we may refuse to carry you if you owe us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us.”
Something is missing..
One aspect which puzzles me in this discussion – and which seems to be entirely missing from the narrative – is the role of credit card companies.
Personally, I can certainly sympathise with the affected customers, but I also fully agree with Ryanair’s statement.
Whether you like it or not, Ryanair has clear terms and conditions to which all passengers have to agree. Besides, when it comes to flight cancellations and refunds there are clear laws and guidelines – and to the best of my knowledge Ryanair doesn’t seem to have broken any of them.
Yet instead of picking a fight with their customers, it would make a lot more sense if Ryanair battles this one out with the credit card companies. To explain what I mean with this, let’s first have a look what a chargeback actually is.
What is a chargeback?
A chargeback is basically a charge (payment) which is returned to your credit card. You can initiate a chargeback by disputing a certain charge or payment on your credit card, after which your bank or card company will look into the matter.
Typically, this is done when you buy something (whether it’s some goods or a service) and your product is not delivered according to the agreement.
This could be a t-shirt which you bought online but was never physically delivered at your doorstep, but it could also be an airline ticket.
In this case, the affected passengers bought a Ryanair flight but argued that because they were not able to fly, the airline should refund the costs. When Ryanair was unwilling to do this, these passengers initiated a chargeback with their credit card company.
Ryanair argued that because the flight went on as planned, they had no responsibility whatsoever to refund the ticket. However, the credit card companies involved sided with the passengers and accepted the chargeback.
When it comes to passenger rights, it is normally the duty of the passenger to ensure that they can travel on the date of their flight and that they can legally enter the country they are travelling to.
If it turns out you cannot travel on the date on which you booked your flight and you don’t have a flexible ticket to change the flight to another travel day, that’s bad luck.
If you need a visa to enter your destination country but you didn’t manage to get it in time from the embassy, that’s bad luck. In both cases, it’s your own responsibility and the airline has zero obligations to rebook or refund you.
It’s something different entirely in cases where the airline is to blame for not getting you from A to B. If you booked a ticket but the airline cancels the flight and postpones it to another date which doesn’t align with your schedule, then the airline basically has to rebook you on a flight on the original date or give you a full refund.
In such a case, you would have the full right to initiate a chargeback on your credit card if the airline for some reason doesn’t want to refund your money.
It therefore surprises me that credit card companies sided with the passengers in this regard. Given that Ryanair operated the flight as planned, the airline uphold their part of the bargain and basically provided the service for which the passengers paid for.
Whether or not it’s customer-friendly or not to refund such tickets is an entirely different discussion.
Some airlines have decided to be magnanimous during the corona pandemic as they thought it would be better PR for the company. Of course, we all know how Ryanair feels about such issues as a no-frills airline..! Yet that does not change the situation on which party is factually right here.
My own chargeback story
The story is not dissimilar to one of my own flights which I had booked during the pandemic. A year or so ago, I had booked a TAP Air Portugal flight from Dublin to Toronto via Lisbon for the amazing price of 70 euro.
Unfortunately, Canada did not allow EU citizens to enter the country and I knew that I would probably not be able to fly.
I had resigned myself to losing the money I had paid for the ticket as TAP Air Portugal does not have any obligation to pay back the money to me if they would operate the flight as planned, thus providing the service which I originally paid for.
Some people would argue that due to corona this is all suddenly different, but I disagree as an airline is not responsible for immigration policies of a certain country.
If that would be the case, then airlines should also refund the tickets of passengers whose passports have expired or who didn’t manage to get a visa for their destination country!
Although it seemed that I could not claim back the money, I ended up being lucky as three weeks before the flight TAP Air Portugal mailed me that the flight time has been put forward by 24 hours.
I wrote back to the airline that I did not accept the schedule change and demanded a refund, which I knew was in my full right according to EU passenger rights regulations.
When the airline was unwilling to repay me, I initiated a chargeback with my credit card company. After sending over the necessary proof (ticket receipt, email notifying me of the change of date, the airline’s refusal to refund my ticket) the card company sided with me and returned the 70 euro charge to my card.
To summarise a long story, credit card companies play a vital role when it comes to chargebacks as they technically act as intermediaries. When a client initiates a chargeback, the card company or bank still needs to check both side of the story and to see whether the consumer indeed has been wronged.
Only when they find that the initially purchased goods or service has not been delivered as promised, will the card company process the chargeback.
I’m therefore certainly curious to hear why the credit card companies involved think this is such an unusual situation that normal cancellation and refund rules do not apply!
If Ryanair therefore is unhappy with the result of the chargeback procedure, they should take aim at the credit card companies or banks involved and take them to court – something which I fully expect to happen here.
I’d personally be surprised if a court would side with the credit card companies on this issue as it would be a major change of interpretation of passenger rights regulations.
Personally, I find this story to be enormously interesting as it has so much more depth and detail than has been reported in the media. It certainly is not the black-and-white story of Ryanair unfairly blacklisting passengers as the airline does have a case here in my opinion.
However, taking it out on the passengers is still the wrong move from a PR and human perspective in my opinion.