By Andrew Atkinson

Ryanair has informed passengers who want refunds for cancelled flights they will have to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic has passed – offering vouchers valid for a year.

In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis Ryanair was praised for bucking a trend, among other airlines, by adhering to EU regulations and automatically offering passengers refunds for cancelled flights, instead of alternative bookings or vouchers.

However customers are receiving Ryanair emails saying they cannot process refunds, until after the COVID-19 pandemic has eased, and passengers affected by the mass cancellation of flights have a voucher valid for 12 months.

It is reported emails inform passengers, who wish to request cash as an alternative to a voucher that: “As our payment agents are required to stay at home in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, payment security restrictions prevent us from processing cash refunds until the Covid-19 crisis has abated.

“We would like to invite you to use your voucher to book your next trip and we look forward to seeing you again on a Ryanair flight in the very near future. “Should you prefer a cash refund please contact us. And we will place your request in the cash refund queue, until the Covid-19 emergency has passed.”

Under EU regulations, passengers on cancelled flights must be offered the choice of a refund, a re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or a re-routing at a later date.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross reportedly considered allowing airlines and tour operators to issue vouchers – instead of refunds – when flights were cancelled, as part of a set of measures that will alleviate financial pressures on companies, to protect jobs and businesses.

The department is assessing proposals to help airlines, travel agents and tour operators that does not go against consumer rights.

Many airlines have been accused by passengers and travel agents of withholding refunds, offering vouchers or the opportunity to re-book flights for a later date without incurring booking fees, which runs contrary to the Europe-wide EU261/2004 regulation.

The European Consumer Centre, which polices consumer rights across the EU, stressed that, regardless of what passengers had been told, airlines are obliged to respect passenger rights, which remain unchanged even under such extraordinary circumstances as the Covid-19 restrictions.

It said people were entitled to refunds if flights were cancelled.

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