British Airways has struck a deal with its unions to suspend more than 30,000 cabin crew and ground staff in one of the airline industry’s most dramatic moves yet to survive the coronavirus pandemic.With global travel in turmoil as the virus takes hold around the world, BA’s owner, IAG, said it would also cut capacity…
British Airways has struck a deal with its unions to suspend more than 30,000 cabin crew and ground staff in one of the airline industry’s most dramatic moves yet to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
With global travel in turmoil as the virus takes hold around the world, BA’s owner, IAG, said it would also cut capacity by 90 per cent in April and May, and scrap its dividend, in a desperate bid to survive the worst crisis in its history.
With BA having already agreed a 50 per cent pay cut for its pilots, the deal focuses on cabin and ground crew, engineers and office staff.
It comes after union chiefs announced that BA will furlough a large majority of its workforce on 80 per cent pay.
The airline will introduce its own modified version of the government’s job retention scheme, according to the Unite union.
Unlike the government scheme, there will be no cap on earnings, union chiefs said.
Workers will be able to divert their pension contributions into their pay for a short period of time and there will be no unpaid temporary lay offs or redundancies, said Unite, adding that a redundancy process that had already begun has been halted.
BA boss Alex Cruz also revealed that he won’t take a salary for two months.
Separately, on Thursday IAG cancelled its final dividend, saving £320 million ($366 million). The stock had risen on the jobs plan but closed down 1 per cent.
Hundreds of companies across a range of sectors have scrapped dividends to conserve cash, but the move by IAG marks a particular blow for investors because it was the third highest yielding stock by dividend on the UK’s benchmark FTSE 100.
British Airways will introduce its own modified version of the government’s job retention scheme, with workers being furloughed on 80 per cent pay, according to the Unite union.
Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson said: ‘Given the incredibly difficult circumstances that the entire aviation sector is facing this is as good a deal as possible for our members.
‘The deal protects the jobs of BA staff and, as far as possible, also protects their pay.
‘This is what can and should be done to protect workers during this unprecedented time for the airline sector.’
The deal will now be circulated to Unite’s members at British Airways for their final approval.
It comes as British Airways‘ Spanish owners today axed a controversial £300million payout to shareholders as staff accused them of running the airline into the ground by furloughing the majority of its workforce.
Madrid-based International Airlines Group proposed a dividend of around 17p per share in February, when the ravages of the killer virus on society and the global economy were already apparent.
But chief financial officer Stephen Gunning said today the cash would instead be used to keep the company going through the virus crisis.
One former manager in BA’s finance team told MailOnline today: ‘Don’t blame the virus. This company has been mismanaged for years. IAG have simply sucked the life out of it’.
The whistleblower said IAG had been paying large dividends to shareholders despite falling profits in recent years when they have been rocked by repeated IT problems, a £183million fine for a data breach and their first ever strike by pilots last September.
Tens of thousands of BA’s workers are about to be furloughed and paid via the government’s taxpayer-funded job retention scheme, which offers them 80 per cent of someone’s average pay up to £2,500-a-month.
But critics have suggested that with an annual turnover of £25billion and around £7billion in the bank, IAG should at the very least be paying the remaining 20 per cent of their salaries.
Staff expected to be temporarily laid off have contacted MailOnline to express their anger after they found out about the job suspensions from the news. One cabin crew member said: ‘I am disgusted. I have heard nothing from British Airways. They should be paying our wages’.
Another worker told the BBC: ‘We have no idea on who they’re going to be keeping on or where they’re going to be flying. And most importantly, how we’re going to be treated when we come back’.
IAG’s boss Willie Walsh saw his pay jump 5.5% to £3.2 million last year and stands to retire in June with millions due in share bonuses over the next four years. He also sold £3.5million worth of shares last year, reportedly to fund his divorce.
As BA edged towards a total shut down, it has also emerged:
- Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to show leadership over Britain’s testing fiasco as Britain suffers 569 more fatalities taking total to 2,921 as death toll quadruples in a week
- Just 2,000 of the NHS’ 500,000 staff have been tested as a fifth medic working on the frontline is killed by the virus;
- UK banks in the firing line as they ‘unfairly refuse’ rescue loans for coronavirus-hit firms;
- Six-week-old US baby dies after being rushed to hospital – as America’s death toll rises above 5,000 – as White House is told China has covered up true scale of deaths there;
- Morgue the size of two football pitches is being built in east London to hold thousands of victims from NHS Nightingale, which opens this week;
BA is owned by Madrid-based, International Airlines Group, whose boss Willie Walsh saw his pay jump 5.5% to £3.2 million last year – despite tumbling profits – and stands to retire in June with millions due in share bonuses over the next four years
The British Airways check-in area is seen empty at Gatwick airport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues, as BA shut down its operations away from Heathrow T5
The airline is today expected to suspend around 36,000 of its 45,000 staff as coronavirus left the airline on its knees.
The airline has reached a broad deal with the Unite union that will include the suspension of 80 per cent of its cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and those working at head office in Harmondsworth, near Heathrow.
BA refused to comment today, only to say ‘talks are ongoing’, but a Unite spokesman said: ‘Unite has been working around the clock to protect thousands of jobs and to ensure the UK comes out of this unprecedented crisis with a viable aviation sector’, adding: ‘Members are very anxious at this time’.
The 36,000 job cuts came after BA axed all its flights to and from Gatwick Airport and London City – with BA only expected to keep flying from Heathrow Terminal 5 with a severely reduced schedule.
British Airways’ furloughed staff will get 80% of their monthly pay up to a maximum of £2,500. Most businesses have not chosen to pay the other 20 per cent.
Chancellor will order banks to hand over loans to struggling firms as companies prepare to ‘furlough half their staff’
Rishi Sunak is preparing to overhaul his bailout for business and order banks to give firms the financial support they need after it emerged almost half expect to furlough at least 50 per cent of workers in the next week.
The Chancellor is widely expected to announce tomorrow a fresh wave of action to help companies hit by coronavirus after research published by the BBC suggested up to a million could be forced to shut.
Mr Sunak is due to make it easier for companies to get hold of cash through the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
MailOnline has been contacted by numerous firms which have either been refused help by banks or have been offered money but with interest rates as high as 30 per cent.
Meanwhile, a British Chambers of Commerce survey of 600 firms found 44 per cent of firms are likely to put more than half of their workers on furlough, with the government then paying their wages.
A majority of firms – 62 per cent – only have up to three months’ cash in reserve and almost one in five have less than a month in their rainy day funds as they struggle with plummeting revenues.
Almost half of businesses expect to furlough at least 50 per cent of their workforce in the next week, according to a new survey which shows the cost of Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus bailout could soar.
The British Chambers of Commerce asked 600 firms what the crisis will mean for them and 44 per cent said they were likely to put more than half of their workers on furlough, with the government then paying their wages.
Meanwhile, a majority of firms – 62 per cent – only have up to three months’ cash in reserve and almost one in five have less than a month in their rainy day funds as they struggle with plummeting revenues.
The statistics come amid growing pressure on the government to improve its business bailout as concerns increase that many firms have been unable to access support.
BA has cancelled thousands of flights and has been inundated with refund requests – but they are taking two weeks or more to process, sparking fury among customers.
One tweeted today: ‘Their customer service is non existent and are trying to hold onto the money that their customers work so hard for! This is a global pandemic that is affecting everyone. It’s been 3 weeks. That’s 21 days. I am in need of a refund not a voucher for another flight’.
Rebecca Eichler also took to social media and said: ‘My flight was cancelled and you have offered a full refund, which is only available by calling, but you are not accepting calls’.
BA is also among the airlines helping repatriate Britons stuck abroad following Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s pledge to set aside £75 million to help get people home.
The decision by BA to shut its Gatwick operation came hours after easyJet grounded its entire fleet of 330 aircraft and became the first UK airline to stop all its operations.
On Wednesday, Gatwick’s North Terminal shut with the South Terminal operating from 2pm and 10pm to cut costs, meaning most of the airport’s staff will be furloughed.
Boeing to offer voluntary layoffs to thousands of employees as soon as today
Boeing is set to offer buyout and early retirement packages to employees, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday, in a bid to mitigate the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Boeing was initiating a voluntary layoff plan that allows eligible employees who want to exit the company to do so with a pay and benefits package, one of the people said.
Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun is expected to detail a voluntary layoff plan in a memo to employees as early as Thursday, the second person said.
A representative for Boeing declined to comment.
Those not furloughed, such as call centre staff and those involved in live operations, will remain on full pay following the talks.
A source told The Sun: ‘Negotiations have been tough but there is an acknowledgement at BA and the union that these are unprecedented times.’
The agreement has yet to be fully signed off but it is thought this will happen early on Thursday morning. A spokesman for the airline told MailOnline: ‘Talks continue.’
With future bookings cancelled for the time being, airlines such as British Airways have been losing vast sums of money.
A British Airways spokesman declined to say how many of its workers’ jobs are under threat when asked earlier this week, but said: ‘Due to the considerable restrictions and challenging market environment, like many other airlines we will temporarily suspend our flying schedule at Gatwick. We are contacting affected customers to discuss their options.’
Two weeks ago British Airways admitted coronavirus is threatening its very survival as staff were told there will be job cuts and aircrafts must be mothballed because of the ‘worsening’ worldwide pandemic.
Chief Executive Alex Cruz wrote to all 45,000 workers saying the virus’ relentless spread is a crisis ‘of global proportions like no other we have known’, more serious than the 2008 financial crash, SARS or 9/11.
But chief executive of its parent company IAG, Willie Walsh, has also stressed that he had not requested a government bail-out and insisted IAG was ‘resilient with a strong balance sheet’, adding there is ‘no guarantee that many European airlines would survive’.
Customers whose flights have been cancelled say that they have been waiting for weeks for refunds
There are concerns about BA’s decision to furlough staff with such a healthy balance sheet
I’ve been furloughed: What does it mean, why are companies doing this and what happens next?
Until a fortnight ago, it’s unlikely many British workers had ever encountered the term ‘furloughed’, but now it is a concept that has been thrust into the spotlight by the coronavirus crisis.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a series of measures to cover the wages of millions of people suddenly left without work and prevent businesses going bankrupt due to the coronavirus crisis – and furloughing staff lays at the heart of it.
Sunak said the Government will cover 80 per cent of salaries up to a ceiling of £2,500 a month – equivalent to the UK average wage of £30,000 a year.
The scheme, open to all firms with employees, will be up and running by the end of April and backdated to March 1.
But in order to access it, businesses will have to ‘furlough’ their employees who they can no longer afford to pay.
This term, until now more or less unknown in the UK, is suddenly popping up everywhere, with easyJet just one among the many companies announcing a two-month furlough for its cabin crew who can’t work after the company grounded all of its flights.
Here we explain what furlough means and what it entails for workers and businesses.
What does it mean to be ‘furloughed’?
Essentially, if you’re being furloughed by your employer, it means you’re being sent home, but will still receive 80 per cent of your salary by the Government, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
This Government job retention scheme is only for employed people, it does not apply if you are self-employed.
However, you first need to agree to be put on furlough by your employer, who can then apply for the money to the Government. You cannot apply for it yourself.
Your employer can choose to pay the remaining 20 per cent of your wages, although it is not obliged to do so.
If you earn more than £2,500 a month, your employer can choose to ‘top up’ your salary, but again it is not forced to do so.
You will still continue to pay income tax and national insurance contributions while on furlough.
Can I be furloughed if I’m on a zero-hour contract?
Yes. Also if you’re on a flexible contract or are employed by an agency.
If you are on a zero-hour contract, which means you don’t necessarily earn the same amount each month, your employer should give you the 80 per cent of your average monthly salary since you started working.
That also applies to workers who have been employed for less than a year.
If you’ve worked for your employer for a year or more, you should receive 80 per cent of your average monthly salary, or 80 per cent of what you earned in the same month during the previous year – whichever is highest.
If you started work only in February, your employer will pro-rata your earnings from that month. But if you’ve started working on 28 February or after, you are not eligible.
If you have been made redundant after February 28, or even if you left a job after that date, you could be reemployed under furlough if your employer is willing to do so. Otherwise you will have to claim unemployment.
Can I be forloughed if I’m sick?
If you’re fallen ill and in the meantime your employer has had to shut down, you should first get statutory sick pay first, but can be furloughed after this.
Those who are self-isolating because of coronavirus can also be placed on furlough.
People who are ‘shielding’ and are vulnerable to potential severe illness caused by the coronavirus, can also be placed on furlough.
At the moment, employees can be furloughed from a minimum of three weeks up to three months, although the Government may look to extend that if needed.
Which businesses can apply?
Any company with employees can apply, including charities, recruitment agencies and public authorities.
However, the Government does not expect many public sector organisations to apply, as ‘the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak’.
Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to the coronavirus outbreak are not expected to furlough staff.
Employers can furlough staff for a minimum of three weeks and are not allowed to rotate employees on furlough.
In order to access the scheme, businesses need to change the status of their employees to furlough workers and submit the information to HMRC.
HMRC are currently working to set up a system for reimbursing companies.
BA is one of many that are to stop serving the UK’s second busiest airport due to the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline will keep equipment for essential functions at the airport, such as maintenance, towing and cleaning, to enable it to restart operations quickly.
Just 33 flights were due to take off or land at the West Sussex airport on Tuesday, according to aviation data provider FlightStats.
From Wednesday, Gatwick’s runway was only open for scheduled flights between 2pm and 10pm.
The airport also closed one of its two terminals.
The measures will be in place for a minimum of one month.
Airports are responding to the decision by airlines to suspend the majority of their flights due to demand plummeting and countries around the world introducing travel restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
London City Airport closed its runway to all commercial and private flights last week while Southend Airport is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays between 4.30pm and 9.30pm.
IAG recently announced three-quarters of flights will be cut over the next two months also said it was ‘taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow’.
These include temporarily suspending employment contracts, reducing working hours and offering staff unpaid leave.
The group, which also owns Iberia and Vueling, employs 66,000 staff.
Airlines are in the process of temporarily laying off tens of thousands of staff without pay.
Amid warnings of an industry collapse within weeks, BA-owner IAG, EasyJet, Ryanair and Norwegian all revealed drastic plans to slash costs and ground flights.
Virgin Atlantic said staff had agreed to take eight weeks of unpaid leave over the next three months, with the salary docked from workers’ pay over six months so their income does not dry up.
All 10,000 employees of the company, founded and controlled by Richard Branson, will also be offered voluntary redundancy.
In a sign of the scale of the coronavirus crisis, the airlines have been backed by the union Unite and pilots association Balpa.
The most extreme measures were taken by Norwegian, which is the third largest airline at Gatwick. It is temporarily laying off around 7,300 staff – 90 per cent of its workforce.
The airline which is saddled with debt, has lost more than 80 per cent of its market value since the start of the year.
EasyJet’s founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou yesterday justified the decision to pay a £174million dividend to shareholders including around £60million to his family just ten days before it grounded all its 330 planes.
The Luton-based airline employs 9,000 staff and is the first in the UK to stop all flights and mothball all jets since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Britain.
Sir Stelios said the now-controversial dividends were agreed in February when ‘the world looked like a much happier place’ and the cash was ‘automatically’ paid to shareholders on March 20 and were ‘impossible to stop’.
In an extraordinary statement the billionaire also said calls for him to give the money back were ‘naïve’ and ‘malicious’, adding easyJet ‘is not a charity’.
The grounding of easyJet’s gigantic fleet came just days after calling for a state loan to help them survive.
Justifying the £170million payout Sir Stelios, who with his siblings are the largest single shareholders in the carrier with a 34 per cent stake, insisted that the dividends were ‘legal’ and ‘rightful’.
He said: ‘The reality of the situation is the dividend was legally at the point of no return on the 6th of February, or at the very latest on the 27th of February 2020. The world looked like a much happier place on the 6th of February and the dividend was rightfully paid to all shareholders’.
In a lengthy statement he said the payments could not have been stopped.
He said: ‘The dividends by the 20th of March we already paid automatically via a complex web of bank accounts where the shares are held and it is impossible to stop it for some shareholders but not for others’.
Sir Stelios is threatening to seek the removal of board members unless the airline withdraws from a contract with Airbus to provide 107 aircraft which he said will cost £4.5 billion.
In his statement earlier this week he said journalists who asked whether he would hand his dividend back were ‘naïve/malicious’, adding: ‘I am perplexed as to how that would work?’, adding: ‘To be used how? To pay that money straight over to Airbus? And what is the consideration for such a gift? Or is it meant as a selfless charitable donation? Charity towards which deserving cause exactly? easyJet is not a registered charity to receive donations and neither is Airbus. That’s not how publically listed companies work’.
How coronavirus has affected airlines in the UK over the past month
Flybe: Europe’s largest regional airline collapsed on March 5 after months on the brink, triggering 2,400 job losses and left around 15,000 passengers stranded across the UK and Europe. Flybe’s owners, a consortium including Virgin Atlantic, the Stobart Group and hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, blamed coronavirus for hastening the ailing airline’s collapse. Flybe operated up to 50 UK routes, accounting for 40 per cent of all domestic flights, and was used by 9.5million passengers a year.
British Airways: The International Airlines Group, which also includes Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on March 16 that there would be a 75 per cent reduction in passenger capacity for two months, with boss Willie Walsh admitting there was ‘no guarantee that many European airlines would survive’.
easyJet: The airline with 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew grounds its entire fleet of 344 planes on March 30. The Luton-based carrier said parking all of its planes ‘removes significant cost’ as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand.
Loganair: The Scottish regional airline said on March 30 that it expects to ask the Government for a bailout to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Loganair will go to the government despite being told by Finance Minister Rishi Sunak last week that airlines should exhaust all other options for funding, before asking for help.
Jet2: The budget holiday airline has suspended all of its flights departing from Britain until April 30. A number of Jet2 flights turned around mid-air earlier this month while travelling to Spain when a lockdown was announced in the country.
Virgin Atlantic: The airline said on March 16 that it would have reduced its lights by 80 per cent by March 26, and this will go up to 85 per cent by April. It has also urged the Government to offer carriers emergency credit facilities worth up to £7.5billion.
Ryanair: More than 90 per cent of the Irish-based airline’s planes are now grounded, with the rest of the aircraft providing repatriation and rescue flights.
EasyJet grounded its entire fleet of 330-plus planes as coronavirus continued to wound Britain’s airlines.
The airline serves 159 airports and 1,051 routes, has 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew.
The company has worked with union Unite to agree two-month furlough arrangements for cabin crew which means that crew will be paid 80 per cent of their average pay up to £2,500-a-month through the Government job retention scheme.
Virgin Atlantic will ask the British government for a package of commercial loans and guarantees worth hundreds of millions of pounds, the Financial Times reported.
Other carriers including airlines such as Loganair and Eastern Airways, and Norwegian Air Shuttle are also considering to ask for state aid, the newspaper added.
But British ministers want bigger airlines with wealthy shareholders will weather the storm without the need for billions in taxpayer cash.
The Luton-based carrier said the measure ‘removes significant cost’ as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand caused by the outbreak of the virus.
British Airways and other airlines have been helping repatriate Britons from abroad.
Relieved passengers burst into applause after a British Airways repatriation flight from Peru landed at Gatwick on Tuesday morning – but travellers claim they were ‘left in the dark’ by the Foreign Office over whether to self-isolate or not.
The flight was one of two BA flights that took off from Lima on Monday evening and arrived safely in the UK on Tuesday morning.
Footage posted on social media showed the appreciation of stranded Brits who started clapping as they landed back on UK soil.
Tens of thousands of Britons are still stuck all over the world due to the coronavirus lockdown in countries such as India, Thailand, the Philippines and New Zealand.
It prompted Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to announce yesterday that £75 million would be set aside to charter flights to bring stranded Britons home from areas where commercial routes were no longer running.
Why are flights still landing in Britain from coronavirus hotspots including Italy, the US and Spain?
Flights are still landing in Britain from coronavirus hotspots including Italy, the US and Spain.
Passengers landed at London Heathrow this morning on planes from the likes of Rome on Alitalia, New York on United Airlines and Madrid on Iberia.
Flights from America also brought passengers into London earlier this week from other US cities including Atlanta and Boston on British Airways, and Dallas on American Airlines.
While passengers arriving on flights from affected countries are asked to self-isolate for 14 days, there are no means of enforcing this and no health checks are being carried out at UK airports.
There is a split in the Cabinet other whether UK borders should be closed to stop people arriving from virus hotspots.
Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to stop passengers being able to fly in to the UK from countries with high levels of infections such as Iran, the US and China.
Mrs Patel believes flights from virus hotspots should not be allowed when the country is on lockdown to prevent its spread.
The lack of a travel ban in the UK is in stark contrast to policies in the EU and the US which have closed their borders to travellers from many other countries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab want to keep the borders open, in part to allow stranded Britons to return home.
‘It feels weird, I burst into tears when I walked through – we’ve been trying to get home for so long,’ said Alice Nuttall, 21, from Nantwich.
‘We’re assuming, because we had to fill in our contact information on this form… that we’ll get contacted regarding [coronavirus].’
‘We’ve been told we need to pay £250 for the repatriation flight by the Government.’
‘They haven’t really advised us on anything else, we haven’t been screened or anything,’ added her friend Ellie Durrant, 22.
Ms Nuttall’s father John Nuttall, 56, said that the women and their families would be taking ‘sensible’ steps following guidance from Public Health England.
‘They’ll self-isolate for 14 days and obviously follow the rest of the Government advice,’ he said.
Relatives gathered at international arrivals in the terminal building, maintaining a two-metre distance, but many embraced their loved ones as they came through the gate.
Other travellers expressed disappointment at being forced to come home early and said that they had not been given any clear instructions or extra precautions after arriving back in the UK.
‘It’s a bit strange to be home – I was expecting to be travelling for another two-and-a-half months,’ said Anna-Lucia Strike, 18, from Chiswick in west London.
‘I haven’t been told anything about what I should do now. I know the rules that are here in the UK but apart from that we haven’t been told anything extra.’
‘We’ve been pretty left in the dark,’ said Drew Jones, 27, from Essex.
‘We’re going straight into isolation I think, don’t really have much to do at home or at work… totally mixed emotions.’
Kate Harrisson, British Ambassador to Peru, said: ‘With the departure of 2 more BA planes today (5 since Wednesday) we have enabled the evacuation of over 1000 British nationals, around 160 Irish nationals and a range of EU nationals in less than a week.
‘I want to thank my team for making this possible. A more than stellar effort.’
Passengers that travelled on a repatriation flight from Peru arrive at Gatwick Airport in Sussex as the government continues to help tens of thousands of Britons that remain stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic
British Ambassador to Peru, Kate Harrisson, said they have enabled the evacuation of more than 1000 British nationals from the country.
Passengers that travelled on a repatriation flight from Peru arrive at Gatwick Airport today
A Twitter used called Mark posted a short video showing people clapping as they landed at Gatwick today
Families slam travel firms as they battle to get their money back for Easter holidays cancelled due to coronavirus while tourism bosses urge government to axe refund rules or risk ‘catastrophic damage’ to industry
By James Robinson for MailOnline
Out-of-pocket holidaymakers have taken to social media in outrage after struggling to get refunds from two of Britain’s biggest airlines.
Passengers of BA and Easyjet say they have been frustrated in their attempts to recoup the costs of their flights after the two airlines made a raft of cancellations this week due to the impact of coronavirus.
One passenger claims to have made more than 100 phone calls to Easyjet, who on Monday announced it was grounding its entire fleet.
Another claims to have waited four hours on hold to the budget airline.
Passengers of BA and Easyjet say they have been frustrated in their attempts to recoup the costs of their flights after the two airlines made a raft of cancellations this week
Luton-based budget airline Easyjet announced on Monday that it was grounding its entire fleet of planes due to the impact of coronavirus on world travel
One passenger claims to have made more than 100 phone calls to Easyjet, while another claims to have waited four hours on hold
Other passengers say they have simply been unable to get hold of anyone from the customer support teams at BA
One twitter user, Simon Calder, took a light-hearted approach to the situation, complimenting the hold music while on the phone to Easyjet for almost two hours
One Twitter user described their attempts to get a refund as like ‘hitting a brick wall’, while a passenger of BA, which has suspended all flights from Gatwick airport, described the offer of a voucher as ‘utterly unacceptable’.
But the raft of complaints come as travel industry chiefs urge the government to suspend refund rules or face ‘catastrophic damage to the UK travel industry’.
Travel industry body, the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), say the coronavirus pandemic has caused a ‘financial strain’ on tour operators and travel agents, which they say is ‘unmanageable in the short term’.
Under current legislation, tour operators are required to refund customers within 14 days.
But Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, says firms should be allowed four months to process payments and is calling on the government to make changes.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: ‘These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines and, without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers.
‘We want to avoid the scenario of normally successful travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people facing bankruptcy.’
Meanwhile, frustrated holidaymakers say they are struggling to obtain refunds from budget airline Easyjet.
The Luton-based firm grounded its entire fleet of aircraft on Monday due to coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 24,000 in the UK.
Travel industry body, Abta, say the coronavirus pandemic has caused a ‘financial strain’ on tour operators and travel agents, which they say is ‘unmanageable in the short term’
Easyjet are not the only airline to be impacted. This week BA suspended all of its flights to and from Gatwick Airport in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic
The airline has not given a date for when it will resume flights.
Following the announcement, passengers took to the website and phones in an attempt to obtain a refund, sparking an array of complaints from those who have so far been unsuccessful.
One Twitter user, Donna Short, said: ‘Getting frustrated by Easyjet now.
‘I know the lines are busy but every time I get through the voice says ‘to save you waiting in the queue please call back later’ and cuts you off.’
Another said: ‘Come on Easyjet, you know you are better than this.
‘Make it easier for people to obtain their refund and you will reap the benefit when this is over.
She added: ‘Do the right thing.’
British Airways, which suspended all flights to and from London’s Gatwick airport amid a collapse in demand due to the coronavirus this week, was also caught in the Twitter storm.
Easyjet say customers can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online or claim a refund through its contact centre
BA says customers with cancelled flights can chose a new flight date, take a voucher or ask for a refund
BA says it is facing ‘unprecedented challenges’ with regards to the number of requests, while Easyjet says customers are experiencing longer than average wait times
Helen Georgiou said: ‘I had two flights cancelled.
‘I had heard nothing back from BA with regards to a refund.
‘I had to follow-up with a complaint to receive a response a week later, to one case, to be told they will issue a travel voucher and not a refund.’
Is it possible to get my money back for a trip or holiday cancelled due to coronavirus?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is currently advising against all foreign travel.
At the moment, that advice is in place until April 16.
It means all travel agents and airlines are legally obliged to issue you with a refund.
As an alternative, they can also allow you to rebook your flight or holiday for a later date or offer you a voucher covering the cost of your flight or holiday.
Another said: ‘BA has given me the option to reschedule my trip, which I’m not feeling at the moment.
‘Can they cancel it and refund my money? I’m too upset to pick another date.’
BA says customers with cancelled flights can chose a new flight date, take a voucher or ask for a refund.
But the company said it is facing ‘unprecedented challenges’ with regards to the number of requests.
In a statement, an Easyjet spokesperson said: ‘Customers on cancelled flights can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online or claim a refund through our contact centre.
‘We are experiencing higher than average wait times so we would thank customers for their patience and assure them that these entitlements will be available long after their cancelled flight has flown.
‘For customers whose flights are not cancelled but would like to move to a later date they can amend their flight online with no change fee and we have brought forward our winter schedule on-sale so customers have more choice to move their flights, up to 28 February 2021.’