Only 29% could get a full refund for canceled flight tickets

January 17, 2022, New Delhi: As COVID cases started to rise in India from early December, driven by the arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID, the Indian government extended the suspension of international flights. Subsequently, various states and union territories also announced restrictions in mid-December to limit the spread of COVID, making domestic travel even more difficult. Many of those who had booked trips during the months of January through March have reviewed their plans and a subset of them have contacted airlines and hotels for cancellations. The rapid increase in the Omicron variant led to COVID cases also prompted some airlines to reduce capacity and as a result some of them waived ticket rescheduling fees and allowed them to rebook another flight until March 31, 2022. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs Aviation, domestic air passenger numbers have been declining since late December 2021, when COVID cases began to rise and various states began imposing restrictions.

It may be recalled that the 2nd wave of the COVID-19 epidemic which reached its peak in April and May forced many citizens to cancel their travel plans. At the time, citizens were facing start-up difficulties in canceling their tickets for their planned trips in the summer. Some travel agents or airlines, trains and even hotels have failed to issue refunds, and citizens have lost the full amount as many continue to seek refunds. While some were able to recover a partial amount, others were asked to rebook for a later date. She eventually prompted the Civil Aviation Ministry in April to set up meetings with airline officials about refunding passenger credits. Some airlines have waived change fees on domestic flights, while others have offered free cancellation and rescheduling of flights. A parliamentary committee had advised the Ministry of Aviation of the need to rationalize cancellation fees and prescribe an upper limit that could be collected from passengers, as well as the need to review the whole structure on the how airport concessions are granted. A survey by LocalCircles conducted in August 2021 to understand the issues faced by people facing the cancellation of their travel reservations due to the second wave found that only 12-13% of those who canceled travel reservations in due to the second wave of COVID have received timely refunds.

Amid rising COVID cases in the ongoing 3rd wave as many people cancel their reservations, LocalCircles conducted another survey to understand how the cancellation process is working this time around for flights and hotel reservations. hotel they had for January-March 2022. The survey received more than 20,000 responses from citizens residing in 332 districts of India. 62% of respondents were male while 38% of respondents were female. 51% of respondents were from Tier 1, 34% from Tier 2, and 15% from Tiers 3, 4 and rural districts.

Of those who canceled flight tickets due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 29% were able to get a full refund from airlines/travel agents

The first question in the survey asked citizens: “For the flight you had booked for January-March 2022, how did the cancellation process work?” In response, 29% answered “The travel agent and/or the airline accepted the cancellation and refunded the full amount”, 14% answered “The travel agent and/or the airline accepted cancellation but refunded the partial amount”, 29% answered “The travel agent and/or the airline agreed to canceled and refunded a very small amount”, 14% said that “the travel agent and/or the airline /or the airline did not refund anything but rebooked the ticket for a later date”. 14% could not say. Overall, of those who canceled flight tickets due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 29% were able to get a full refund from airlines/travel agents. This survey question received 10,151 responses.

Although more than twice as many citizens were able to get airfare refunds due to the 3rd wave cancellation compared to the 2nd wave, the majority still ended up losing money to the profit from airlines

A similar survey conducted by LocalCircles during the 2nd wave had indicated that 12% of citizens who had booked a trip were able to obtain a full refund due to the cancellation of flights. In Wave 3, 29% of people who booked travel between January and March 2022 were able to get a full refund due to cancellation. Although more than twice as many citizens were able to get airfare refunds due to 3rd wave cancellation compared to 2nd wave cancellation, the majority still ended up losing money for the airlines.

Although more than twice as many citizens were able to get airfare refunds due to the 3rd wave cancellation compared to the 2nd wave, the majority still ended up losing money to the profit from airlines

Of those who canceled a hotel reservation due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 34% were able to get a full refund from hotels/travel agents

The next question in the survey asked citizens: “For the hotel stay(s) you had booked for travel from January to March 2022, how did the cancellation process work?” In response, 34% answered “The travel agent and/or the hotel accepted the cancellation and refunded the full amount”, 13% answered “The travel agent and/or the hotel accepted cancellation but refunded the partial amount”, 13% answered “Travel agent and/or hotel accepted canceled and refunded a very small amount”, an additional 13% said that “the travel agent and/or the hotel did not refund anything but re-booked the ticket for a later date”. 27% said: “The travel agent and/or the hotel did not refund anything and we lost all of the booking amount.” Overall, of those who canceled a hotel reservation due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 34% were able to get a full refund from hotels/travel agents. This survey question received 9,974 responses.

Of those who canceled a hotel reservation due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 34% were able to get a full refund from hotels/travel agents

Although more than 2.5 times as many citizens were able to get a hotel reservation refund due to the 3rd wave cancellation compared to the 2nd wave, the majority still lost money to the benefit of hotels

A similar survey conducted by LocalCircles during the 2nd wave indicated that 13% of citizens who had booked hotels were able to obtain full refunds due to hotel cancellations. In Wave 3, 34% of people who booked travel between January and March 2022 were able to get a full refund due to cancellation. Although more than 2.5 times as many citizens were able to get a hotel reservation refund due to the 3rd wave related cancellation compared to the 2nd wave related cancellation, the majority still ended up by losing money to hotels.

Although more than 2.5 times as many citizens were able to get a hotel reservation refund due to the 3rd wave cancellation compared to the 2nd wave, the majority still lost money to the benefit of hotels

In summary, of those who canceled flight tickets due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 29% were able to obtain full refunds from airlines/travel agents. Compared to the 2nd wave, more than twice as many citizens were able to get airfare refunds due to the 3rd wave-related cancellation compared to the 2nd wave, however, the majority still ended up by losing money to the airlines. Similarly, of those who canceled a hotel reservation due to the 3rd wave of COVID, only 34% were able to get a full refund from hotels/travel agents. Compared to the 2nd wave, more than 2.5 times more citizens were able to obtain a hotel reservation refund due to the cancellation related to the 3rd wave compared to the 2nd wave, however, the majority have when even ended up losing money to hotels.

Citizens on the LocalCircles platform suggested that the government come up with a special policy for refunding travel bookings until the COVID pandemic continues, especially for airlines and hotels. This has the support of 90% of citizens who say they want the government to come up with such a policy as per the LocalCircles survey conducted in August 2021. Due to the lack of uniformity in cancellation fees by different airlines and hoteliers, the majority did not approve of refund policies for existing travel bookings during the pandemic.

LocalCircles will share the results of this survey with central and state governments so that the issue can be addressed with airlines and hoteliers, so that citizens are not penalized for cancellation due to the 3rd wave. Also, an effort should be made to provide a uniform refund policy for travel reservations until the COVID pandemic exists.

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