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It’s no secret that flyers have been having a tough time getting some of the world’s airlines to give them the refunds that the rules and laws say they’re entitled to, and people have been rightly outraged at some of the tactics that the airlines have been using. Amusingly, a number of comments have been appearing on various blogs and news sites which attempt to justify the airlines’ actions, and the people posting these comments all stick to the same argument. Unfortunately for them, the argument is idiotic.
The argument being used to justify airlines ignoring the regulators, the laws, and the rules is one that says “these are exceptional times so the rules should not apply”. The people making this argument usually go on to say that the airlines need all the help they can get so customers should be happy to accept a voucher for future travel in place of the refund they’re entitled to.
I’m not sure if the people posting these comments are airline employees or just not very smart (it may be a combination of both) but this is one of the dumbest arguments I’ve heard for a while.
Essentially, what people making this argument may as well come out and say is this:
“Yes, you’re entitled to a refund but, regardless of how badly you need to get your money back, you should let the airlines keep your money (in exchange for a promissory note) because they need it quite badly.”
Are you kidding me?!
Every. Single. Person. Who makes this argument appears to think that the needs of an airline should supersede the needs of the customer. On what planet is that not idiotic?
To give you an idea of how some people who make this argument think, here’s an extract from a comment I read on View From The Wing:
“If a customer bought a non-refundable ticket and the airlines are willing to waive penalties for cancellations, then customers should not be complaining about receiving credit”
Just think about that for a moment.
The person who wrote that comment is suggesting that if you book a non-refundable ticket (the type of ticket that most of us buy) and the airline cannot offer the service you paid for, the airline shouldn’t have to give you a refund. A credit note should suffice.
Who knew that “non-refundable” meant that you don’t get your money back even if you don’t get what you paid for?
Leaving aside the fact that a voucher for future travel may not be of much use to a customer (for a whole variety of reasons), when did we become a society that values the needs of a corporation above the needs of an individual? And when did customers suddenly become lenders of last resort to the airline industry?
In what other industry would this even be an argument? In what other industry would a corporation that could not supply a service, which had been paid for upfront, be given a pass if they didn’t want to return a customer’s money? It simply wouldn’t happen.
More importantly, just take a look at how airlines treat customers when it’s the customer who’s facing an unprecedented crisis of their own – they’re almost always told to go pound sand.
The simple facts are these:
The airline industry may well be on its knees right now but customers aren’t responsible for keeping airlines afloat. Just because an airline needs liquidity does not give it the right to withhold funds that don’t rightfully belong to it. If the airlines have spent the money that customers have been giving them and no longer have enough in reserve to give the necessary refunds, that’s their problem, not the customers’. This is not an issue for the individual customer and it’s why the airlines have governments, stock markets, and institutional investors to run to.
Ignoring all the other bailouts that we’re seeing around the world, the 3 legacy carriers in the United States alone have just received a total of $11.7 billion in government grants. That’s “grants” not “loans” (they’re also getting billions in low-interest loans), so that’s money that will never have to be paid back. Why should customers forfeit their legal right to refunds when airlines are being given free money from taxpayer coffers?
The same person whose quote I used earlier also wrote the following:
“Bottom line, airlines are fighting for survival and it is not reasonable to expect a refund from a pool of cash that simply does not exist and does not exist through no fault of their own.”
Sadly, it *is* the airline’s fault if the cash doesn’t exist.
A lot of the major airlines have been making billions in profits for the past decade but, rather than keeping solid reserves (something IAG should be given credit for), a number of them have been using that cash to prop up their share price which, interestingly, is what the remuneration of a lot of airline directors is based upon.
What we have here is a situation in which airlines that failed to treat their profits responsibility are now being given free taxpayer money to help them survive, and yet we’re still getting people telling us that asking the airlines to give their customers the refunds they’re legally entitled to is unreasonable and unfair.
What’s unreasonable and unfair is that the people at the airlines who failed to take adequate precautions and who traded reserves for stock buybacks still have their jobs. What’s unreasonable and unfair is that the shareholders who have benefited from the largesse shown by airline executives are being bailed out by the taxpayer and not suffering the consequences of those actions (it’s amusing to see how many hardened free-marketeers become incredibly fond of socialism when it’s their money at stake).
And what’s unreasonable and unfair is asking the regular Joe to give airlines an interest-free loan just because the airlines are facing a tough time. Guess what? A lot of people are facing a tough time right now. The airlines aren’t special and they don’t get to choose when to obey the laws and when to flout them so the sooner we stop hearing from people telling us to give the poor little airlines a break the better.