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Fairly recently, I was travelling to Geneva for the day (with the idea of”nipping” to Mont Blanc for lunch… ) with a group of friends and their families. Unfortunately the trip was overshadowed in the worst possible way; by the death of one of my friend’s immediate family members. Whilst this is not a nice subject to be writing about, I would like to share the only positive to come out of the whole situation, in case anyone finds themselves in a similar situation in the future, as much as I hope against this. The airlines’ policies on cancelling flights due to bereavement may be more empathetic than you might expect.
Low-cost does not equal low care
We booked with easyJet – £30 per person return plus some seat allocation charges. Given the low fares, we didn’t expect to get anything back and it was unlikely to be worth claiming on travel insurance.
To my surprise, easyJet actually do cover this explicitly on their website though – and state that a refund (either in cash or voucher) is at the discretion of the Customer Service team. I called them, and within 10 minutes they had issued me with a voucher valid for 6 months for the full value of the flights and seat reservations for the family unable to travel. No proof required, I just had to confirm that the person who had passed away was an “immediate family member” of the people concerned.
I was immensely impressed by the simplicity of the process and clear empathy shown by the customer service staff. It was a nice gesture for my friend at an otherwise terrible time.
Whilst a voucher is not a cash refund – it is much better than nothing. In our situation it has worked out OK – I will most definitely find a use for the voucher in the next 6 months and will give my friend the cash.
How do the competition compare?
This prompted me to investigate the policies of other major UK airlines:
Ryanair – No chance right? Wrong. Ryanair explicitly state they will offer a full refund if an immediate family member passes away within 28 days of your flight, and extend the same dispensation to the travel companion of the bereaved. However they do ask for documentary evidence, so they may require a copy of the death certificate.
British Airways – They are a little more vague, but do promise their customer service staff will “do all they can to help“. Anecdotal reports on FlyerTalk are that BA can be extremely accommodating and sympathetic – although may charge a change fee up front which is refunded once you have submitted a copy of the death certificate.
Virgin Atlantic – I couldn’t find anything specific on their website. Essentially I believe it is a similar approach to BA, you have to call them and any refunds/changes are at their discretion.
Key things to remember
At such a difficult time, flights may be the last thing on your priority list. However, if you do need to cancel or rearrange your plans some key points:
- Contact the airline as soon as you are able to. The more notice they have the more potential there is for them to help you.
- Do not assume a cash refund will be offered. Airlines are more likely to be willing to postpone your travel or offer you a credit voucher.
- Be prepared to be asked for relevant documentation such as a copy of a death certificate.
- Relying on the goodwill of the airline is no substitute for good travel insurance. If you travel even a couple of times a year, an annual policy is a must – if you only travel once a year consider a single trip policy.
Whilst I hope no-one finds themselves in a situation where they need to look at cancelling flights due to bereavement, life happens, so I hope by sharing my experience it might make a terrible situation a (tiny) bit less stressful.