My flight is canceled due to Coronavirus- What to do? Quick Reference Guide

India has declared lock down till mid April and both domestic and international flights are cancelled. Many of you have an upcoming flight are worried about getting your money back. If your flight is affected what to do? Here's a quick reference guide.
Before you proceed, keep following answers ready:
  1. Which airline?
  2. When did you make the booking?
  3. When is your travel date?
  4. Did you book directly with airline or a 3rd party site?
  5. What do you prefer? Rescheduling? Credit points (money remains with airline but can be used for new booking within a time frame) or full refund?
How you are treated for your cancelled flight largely depends on your airline's policy. Here're major ones:
  • Indigo's COVID-19 Policy: Indigo customers whose flights are cancelled or have tickets till April 30, 2020 can either get free reschedule (fare difference payable) or take a credit shell which needs to be used before Sep 30, 2020 (travel date can be for later, but booking should be done before Sep 30)
  • Spicejet's Corona Virus Policy: Spicejet will NOT give refund, but will give full amount in a credit shell which needs to be used for a new booking by same person for travel before Feb 28, 2021 (this is for flights till April 14th only)
  • Vistara: No need to rush- all PNRs for travel dates till April 30, 2020 remain valid till Dec 31st, 2020- you need to select a new date before this time frame and reschedule. No fare difference if new travel date is before end of 2020, else fare difference payable.
  • GoAir Policy: For all travel till April 15th, even if you don't do anything, your ticket is preserved (similar to Vistara but fare difference is payable)
  • Air India: Bit slow to update, as per this PDF, Air India is allowing one free rescheduling for all bookings with travel dates till 30th April, to be done before May 31st 2020. 
  • Air Asia India: If your flight is cancelled by Air Asia India, you can take credit account (need to be used within an year) or reschedule your flight (No extra charges, new dates should be before Oct 31st 2020)
What is credit account/Credit Shell?
Credit shell is like airline will not give cash refund, gets to keep your money but you get to book a new ticket for same value subject to certain rules
- Pay attention to use by date: Like you need to use the amount in credit shell before certain date fixed by airline (1 year for Air Asia, Sep 30 for Indigo etc)
- Fare difference need to be paid. If your current ticket is 5k, you will get credit of 5k. If same ticket costs 8k later, you have to pay 3k more. But if same ticket costs say 2.5k in future, you save.
- Restrictions- Spicejet needs new ticket to be booked in same passenger name. AirAsia allows change of sector, passenger etc

Why airlines are NOT providing full refund?
Twitter is full of frustrated customers asking for 100% refund. However India's airlines are adamant that they will only give credit account or rescheduling. Think of it from Airline's point of view:
- Corona Virus and subsequent low demand/willingness to cancel is not airline's fault
- Airlines are ready to fly but Govt of India has banned the flight
- If every booking is refunded, airlines will have no cash to survive and will have to go bankrupt.
- From airline's point of view, credit shell and free rescheduling options are fair compensation, customers shouldn't ask for refund and eat their head.

What is best for me? What should I do?
Scenario 1: My travel date is beyond April 30th, ticket value under 5000 INR
Best approach: Do not rush to cancel. If you cancel now you will have to pay regular cancellation fee. Wait till mid April to see if lock-down/ban gets extended or skies open up. If flight ban gets extended you will qualify for rescheduling/credit shell, which is better than paying around 3000 per person one way in cancellation charges.

Scenario 2: My travel date is beyond April 30th, ticket value above 5000 INR
If you have paid say 10000 per ticket and do not have any intention to travel, may be you want to cut your loss, pay cancellation, take back 7000 INR in cash. This is again your call. If lock-down continues you will qualify for free rescheduling or credit shell, so if you still want to travel, wait for clarity, but if you have no intention of traveling at all, taking refund at a loss might be worth it. We don't know which airline will survive this crisis- if your ticket is 6 months from now and the airline is not really financially strong, you've to make a tough call.

Scenario 3: My flight is cancelled (travel before April 14th)
Decide if you'd like to reschedule (i.e. postpone your trip) or take credit shell. If your destination is fixed and you've to go there anyway, then rescheduling is best, particularly if your ticket was relatively cheap.

If you are flexible on where to go, or if you've above average fare for your ticket then may be you can take credit shell. You can go somewhere else with same money or if price drops later, you can go to same destination for lesser amount.

Scenario 4: Flight between April 15th and April 30th
If you really really want to travel you can hold on and wait if situation improves and if flights resume.

If you don't want to travel then depending on your airline's policy, either reschedule or take credit shell

I want a refund- what can I do?
Right now there's no easy way- you can scream on social media but don't think airlines will budge. Their survival is at stake. (similar to how RBI put restrictions on Yes Bank/PMC bank account holders when bank was in trouble). We can try pressurize govt to make airlines give refund- don't think that would work as eventually Govt will have to rescue airlines anyway.

Find other affected passengers who are also desperate to get refund, plan further action such as legal course, class action lawsuits etc- these options take lots of time, effort and energy but if the amount involved is significant and rescheduling is not an option for you then proceed with legal option.

What is the best way to reach your airline?
Most call centres are overloaded, social media teams are overworked. Do not expect instant response and action. Do the following
- Understand airline's policy and identify what works best for you
- Try to use website/app or chatbot to the extent possible, this will take the load off human staff.
- Take advise from known travel bloggers/airline bloggers/aviation enthusiasts- they can give more realistic, practical way out than official channels which often parrot template replies and are not authorized to do certain things (like giving refund)
- If you have to contact the airline call them 3-4 days before travel date if possible. This will allow them to attend those who have more immediate travel disruptions.

My booking was done via MMT/Yatra/Cleartrip/Easemytrip/Goibibo etc- What to do?
Most of these portals have declared a policy "if airlines give refund we will give refund" knowing very well that airlines won't refund. So trying to fight with them will be waste of time.
See if you can get your ticket refunded/credit shell claimed directly on Airline website. For a few cases I tested, you can reschedule your ticket directly on airline website even if booking was made on 3rd party site. If it can't be done, with with your travel portal to get the rescheduling done. I am not very sure how credit shell works with travel agent/OTA bookings.

It is best to deal directly with airline even if it costs a few rupees more. Less headache in the time of disruption.

What about international flights?
Situation is largely similar worldwide, however process may vary depending on your airline. Most flights are cancelled, among those operating you need to be sure destination country will accept you. Best to postpone all international travel by minimum 3 months and watch how things go over next few weeks. Let me know if you face any peculiar situation.

Here's a post on how Air France and Amex are hand in glove to refuse refund to customers.

What will happen to flights booked via miles?
Miles status will mostly be frozen and miles will be restored - but I don't have too much experience/expertise on this, so check with your respective airline.

Will I be able to travel after April 15?
No one has answers for this. If the Corona Virus gets under control by mid April, countries around the world may remove travel restrictions. If not the ban may extend. Do not make any plans yet, also do not rush to cancel everything yet. Depending how situation is by say 10th April, take a judgement call.

2 comments:

  1. Very useful article. I remember a situation last year when I booked through MMT but as the flight got delayed beyond 6 hours due to some airport issue I was able to cancel directly with the airlines. It could work now as well given that this is a Govt ban.

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