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Payback for chargeback – travel post Covid-19 restrictions?

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By Lisa Broderick & Rowena McCormack


Published 27 October 2021


As reported earlier this month, an investigation carried out by consumer website Money Saving Expert (“MSE”) found that some Ryanair customers who received a Covid disruption refund by way of “chargeback” (which is a reversal of a transaction on a credit or debit card) were barred from travelling with the airline again unless they returned the refunded money.

It has transpired that some customers who booked trips with the airline this year were later told they could only fly if they returned the refunds, and in some cases customers were notified days and even hours before they were due to travel. The MSE noted that they had seen “dozens of reports” of such “travel bans” on their forum and on social media. They spoke to three passengers who were told by Ryanair that they could not fly until they returned the money previously refunded to them. One customer reported a demand for over £600 which was returned to them via the chargeback process for flights not taken because of Government advice in place at the time.

Further reports emerged earlier this week of similar incidents affecting Irish travellers. In early October, an Irish woman, Ms Barry, tried to check-in at Faro airport in Portugal for a Dublin-bound Ryanair flight. She reported that she was notified by the airline that she would not be allowed to check in without paying the money owing from a flight not taken in September 2020. Ms Barry had obtained a refund €210.95 by way of “chargeback” from Bank of Ireland for a flight in September 2020 however she did not take this flight due to Covid-19 travel restrictions imposed by the Irish Government. However the flight did depart and was not cancelled by Ryanair. Ms Barry’s son, travelling separately to a different destination, was also subject to a demand for payment. It was reported that he was notified that €279.95 was owed to Ryanair in respect of a chargeback claimed for the same flight not taken last September and until the airline received the payment he would not be able to check in for his outbound flight.

Bank of Ireland who issued these chargebacks recently acknowledged that they were wrong to possess the refunds stating that “Bank of Ireland started the chargeback process in error. Because the flight had taken off, Ryanair was correct under EU law when it said that no refund was due even though Barry was not able to board the plane.” Bank of Ireland went on to say that “we should not have instigated the chargeback without receiving proof that a flight had been cancelled...this was an error on our side.”

In response to MSE’s report, Ryanair have stood over their actions stating : “Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair’s T&Cs agreed by the customer at the time of booking. Ryanair’s terms and conditions do state that “we [Ryanair] may refuse to carry you if you owe us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us.” Ryanair’s Terms and Conditions as published on their website state “If we refuse to carry you for one of the reasons above…. we may cancel any unused part of your ticket and refund you the price you have paid for this unused ticket We will not be liable for any loss, damage death or physical injury alleged to be due to our refusal to carry you or your baggage in these circumstances.”

Interestingly on 7 October 2021 the Competition and Markets Authority (the “CMA”) which is the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (the “CCPC”) dropped their investigation into British Airways and Ryanair’s approach to Covid-19 refunds due to a “lack of clarity in the law”. Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA said due to “the length of time that would be required to take this case through the courts, and the uncertain outcome, [the CMA] can no longer justify the further expense of public money.”

With the government’s recent announcement on the lifting of final restrictions and in the lead up to what is expected to be a busy travel period for the upcoming Christmas period, this is something to be aware of when booking flights. If you successfully availed of a refund by way of a “chargeback” from your bank for flights that were not cancelled by the airline (but where you decided not to travel due to Government guidelines in place at the time) you may face a demand for repayment prior to boarding your flight.