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I received an email from a reader recently that raised some interesting questions. I’ll paraphrase, but here’s what Venetia had on her mind…
My son and his friend booked in January to travel to Japan in early September. Unfortunately it seems that British Airways’ voucher scheme is only valid until 31 August. So where does this leave people who are booked for early September?
Currently BA hasn’t reviewed its policy and don’t know if they will (their words not mine). At this point BA will only refund £440 in government taxes out of a total ticket price of £2,200.
I am also aware that entry to Japan is also denied for any non-Japanese nationals who have been to the UK within the last 14 days, except under exceptional circumstances.
So where does he and others stand? BA being allowed to fly doesn’t mean much if their passengers cannot enter the country. This isn’t quite right is it?
There are a few issues here, and this is something that many readers might come across. Eventually airlines are going to start operating flights even though many of their booked passengers can’t (or don’t want to) travel. What are your options going to be?
Book with Confidence Policy
BA’s “Book with Confidence” policy is sometimes mixed together with their other voucher options.
So I’ll be bold… if you booked after 3 March, 2020, you simply gave British Airways an INTEREST FREE loan in exchange for potentially being able to fly.
If your booked flight operates, you would have the option of:
- Taking the flight that you booked
- Receiving a voucher that you could apply a future BA flight (i.e. an interest free loan)
If the booked flight is cancelled, you would have the option of:
- Accepting BA’s proposed alternative (if one is offered!) or negotiating a different alternative
- Cancelling for a full refund (i.e. still an interest free loan)
It is worth highlighting that BA’s “Book with Confidence” policy is due to end on 31 August, 2020. Keep that in mind if you are waiting until September to book travel for summer 2021…
The “Lets Confuse People into Accepting a Voucher Instead of a Refund” Policy
Because Venetia’s son booked before 3 March, the Book with Confidence policy doesn’t actually apply. Instead, he would be relying on BA’s goodwill policy, which currently looks like this:
So where does this leave people who were booked early September?
… in a difficult situation.
This element of BA’s voucher policies wasn’t really intended, in my opinion, to be generous to passengers who due to the pandemic no longer wished to travel. Although some lucky people might have received a voucher instead of “no-showing”, I believe that the intention of this policy is to guide anxious passengers on likely-to-be-cancelled flights towards accepting a voucher now instead of the full refund they would be entitled to by waiting for cancellation.
Even if you aren’t quite as cynical as me, you are nonetheless completely reliant on British Airways’ goodwill. If you booked before 3 March, 2020 for flights after 1 September, 2020 then you must cross your fingers and hope for a cancellation. If the flight operates – and you aren’t on it! – then you are only entitled to a refund of any government taxes.
Countries Restricting Entry or Changing Visa Policy
Whenever you book a flight with British Airways, you agree to BA’s Conditions of Carriage (almost certainly without reading). Click here to read them (for once).
When it comes to passports and visas, the situation is quite clear… YOU are fully and completely responsible for ensuring that you are allowed to enter any country that you wish to visit.
13a1) You (not us) must:
- check the relevant entry requirements for any country you are visiting and
- present to us all passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents needed for your journey.
13a2) You must obey all laws, regulations and orders of any countries you fly from, enter or travel through or in which you are a transit passenger.
13a3) We will not be liable to you if:
- you do not have all necessary passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents
- your passport, visa, health certificates or other travel documents are invalid or out of date or
- you have not obeyed all relevant laws.
13b) You must present to us valid passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents
Before you travel, you must present to us all passports, visas, health certificates and other travel documents you need for your journey. If we ask, you must:
- allow us to take and keep copies of them and
- deposit your passport or equivalent travel document with a member of the crew of the aircraft for safe custody until the end of the flight.
13c) What happens when you are refused entry to a country
If you are refused entry to a country, you must pay:
- any fine, penalty or charge imposed on us by the government concerned
- any detention costs we are charged
- the fare for transporting you back to your place of departure and
- any other costs we reasonably pay or agree to pay.
We will not refund to you the fare for carrying you to the place where you were denied entry.
It is easy to forget as a British citizen with a reasonably “powerful” passport, but many visa applications require evidence of your entry and departure dates (i.e. your ticket details). The system wouldn’t work properly if any airline required you to prove your visa status before selling you a ticket and quite frankly it would be both discriminatory and a ridiculous hassle to prove your passport status before being allowed to buy a ticket.
As a result, the onus is on the passenger to obtain all required travel documents before travelling. That said, occasionally British Airways will be flexible on a goodwill basis; for example if you discover at Heathrow that your ESTA for the United States has inadvertently expired, you might be able to move your flight to a day or two later whilst your application is processed.
For what it’s worth, British Airways isn’t only transporting Britons to Japan, it is free to carry Japanese passengers as well, along with a multitude of different nationalities transiting via London and who might not be subject to any “where you have been the last 14 days” restrictions… So, it wouldn’t make sense for BA to cancel all flights to Japan – stranding Japanese nationals – just because of a new restriction aimed at British citizens/residents.
So… if your British passport was sufficient to enter to a country visa-free at the time of purchase, but ceases to do so at the time of travel, this is a matter for you and your travel insurer, NOT British Airways.
What to Do?
With flight schedules in flux and countries adding and removing restrictions overnight, your main options are:
- Hope for a flight cancellation. If the flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund – no questions asked!
- Check your fare rules. Many non-refundable or “semi-flex” tickets allow you to change dates for a fee. You might be able to change your flights to a later date.
- Get in touch with a blogger or two, and hope that somebody at British Airways reads blogs and decides that their customers are demanding an extension of their flexibility policies… 🙂
Some Tips for the Future
- There is really no need to book non-refundable flights 9-10 months in advance. Unless you have very specific dates or have nabbed an incredible fare, you are probably just locking yourself into an inflexible fare that you could easily book 2-3 months in advance for roughly the same cost.
- Use miles / Avios. In exchange for a cancellation fee, all award tickets are quite refundable.
- Have a good travel insurance policy. Sometimes we can’t be bothered, or leave it until the last minute, but if you are spending money you really would hate to lose, then you should have insurance to cover unforeseen events.
A Happy Ending
As it turns out, British Airways cancelled the exact flight that Venetia’s son was booked on… entitling him to a full refund. In any event, I hope that this case study helps any other readers stuck in a similar situation.