In the unlikely event that any of the regional or continental airlines were to fold up overnight, what options do passengers with advanced booked tickets have
This becomes of particular major concern when a ticket holder has an unutilised ticket or has travelled only one sector of the journey and is yet to make the return trip.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) specifies that an air ticket constitutes prima facie evidence of the contract of carriage between carrier (airline) and the passenger (the person whose details appear on the ticket).
Where an involuntary cancellation takes place — that is failure by an airline to operate an otherwise scheduled flight, the normal expectation is that the airline will take it upon itself to make alternative arrangements for the affected passengers on other flights or carriers at no additional cost to the passenger.
However, if this option is off the table the airline is entitled to make a refund for the ticket or unutilised portion of the ticket in accordance with IATA provisions or the carrier’s regulations.
Being that most African countries have weak or no consumer protection laws when it comes to air transport, some airlines will attempt to get away with immediate responsibility to passengers or refunds.
This week has seen major developments in the aviation industry, both in Africa and the international scene, that are likely to affect passengers by disrupting preplanned itineraries.
Closer home, Kenya Airways announced the suspension of flights to Hong Kong in China and Hanoi, Vietnam. Imagine being stranded at either of these cities with a useless ticket.
In such extreme circumstances as the abrupt cessation of flights, refunds might not come immediately, if they are made at all.
Flyers need to be aware that airlines will only effect refunds to the person named in the ticket, or to the person who has paid for the ticket.
Hence, if your ticket was booked through a travel agency and not at the airline office, the refund will possibly be done directly to the travel agency. So you will need to get in touch with your travel agent, to buy for you a return ticket with the most convenient connections to your final destination. It could cost more.
Likewise, if a ticket was paid for via a credit card, the airline will do the refund back to the card that was used to pay for the ticket.
Further, if a ticket has been paid for by a person other than the passenger named on the ticket, and the airline has indicated on the ticket that there is a restriction on refund, it shall make a refund only to the person paying for the ticket or to that person’s order.
The other development, though unrelated but still sudden and shocking, is the collapse of UK’s Monarch Airlines which saw over 2,000 staffers lose their jobs overnight.
Dubbed the biggest airline failure in British history, the abrupt fold up has left over 110,000 customers of the airline stranded abroad.
Monarch was a prime tourist charter airline, flying holidaymakers to destinations around the world.
The British civil aviation estimates that it will cost £60 million to transport the passengers who would otherwise be left stranded abroad.
Interestingly, Ryanair, another key European carrier is facing a pilots-related crisis that has led to flight cancellations that might affect close to 700,000 passengers.
On the continent, aviation observers have signalled the “beginning of the end” for South African Airways, with an imminent complete collapse.
The airline has made cuts to its domestic and regional flights in a last-ditch attempt to turnaround its fortunes.
Essentially, air travellers are better off making contingency provisions like travel insurance to cover such developments rather or risk being stranded while hoping for immediate refunds.
Remember, compensation claims on the continent due to inconvenience caused by the cessation of flights may not hold much water as airlines are not bound or obliged to compensate passengers in case of company collapse or cessation of flights.
Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; E-mail: [email protected]