Non-refundable fare upsets air passengers

Muscat: The guidelines asking airlines to settle refund claims have raised hope but it is unlikely to help many customers who had to skip their travel due to the pandemic.

One of the reasons is that airlines have stopped the refund and instead are letting customers travel on the same ticket anytime within a year, by paying the fare difference.

“I had a March-end ticket for Mumbai for my family of four but had to skip the plan as flights were cancelled as per COVID-19 restrictions. The airline sent me a text message that I can fly on the ticket within a year, but there will be no cancellation or money refund,” said Ashokan Kumar, who since faced difficulties at the job, including salary delays.

“I have an option to fly on one of the Indian repatriation flights for which I had to shell out nearly between RO70-75 per ticket. With no

income for nearly a month, it is just impossible to pay for these tickets without a refund of the original ticket fare.”

The travel industry veteran, Hameed Moideen, Oman Wings Travels and Tours, told the Observer, “The directive agents got from the national airline Oman Air is that refunds will be processed only after 12 months because of the sheer volume of the applications.”

He agreed that the decision has put many people in a spot as their money will be blocked for months and there is no guarantee they would be able to travel within a year.

As per Oman Air’s COVID-time ticket policy on its website, “No rebooking or change fees will be charged, but additional fare may be collected depending on the type of airfare purchased. Amended travel dates can be up to 24 months from the date of original ticket issuance. Change to another Oman Air destination is also permitted, but if the fare to the new destination is higher than the original paid, then the difference in fare will be charged.”

With ticket fares generally high during summer months of June-July, many expatriates and Omani citizens book tickets at least six months in advance for return to native country or vacation.

“One of the options, before a customer is to approach the Consumer Protection Authority if the ticket booked, is from an agency or airline within Oman jurisdiction. It may not be applicable if the ticket booked online on a foreign airline,” said Mohammed al Balushi, who is weighing options as he had a ticket booked for the June vacation in Europe.

One expatriate told the Observer that he is yet to get the refund after he was promised it will be transferred to him within a week by a budget airline of India. “There is virtually no response to my calls or emails after some initial follow-ups.”

Last week, the Observer published a report which said that the Public Authority of Civil Aviation (PACA) asked all airlines operating in the Sultanate on the need to protect the rights of travellers whose reservations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The observer has been giving receiving calls from the public for clarification on the refund policy.

Airlines have been given a deadline, no later than November 2, 2020, to settle their financial positions, and to end all claims to refund the value of air tickets.

The deadline for completing their claims on the tickets issued for Omani students studying abroad is no later than August 19, 2020.

“The traveller is entitled to recover the value of the travel ticket at the same price at which he bought the ticket within seven days of the cancellation, for the part or parts of the trip that is undertaken, regardless of the booking conditions and without deducting any amount from the ticket value,” PACA said.