KUALA LUMPUR (April 8): Airlines should make cash refunds as their top priority and not issue credit notes, which may have little or no value should they go insolvent, according to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA).
In a statement today, MATTA expressed concern that many passengers and travel agents may not be getting refunds due to them from flight cancellations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a statement today, MATTA vice-president for air transportation Shazli Affuat Ghazali said airlines should make cash refunds as their top priority.
"While they are being bailed out or given loans to resume operations post-pandemic, they must first pay out cash refunds to restore public confidence," he said.
Shazli said that it is a matter of principle to return payments collected from customers for services not rendered due to the current extraordinary circumstances.
"We are disappointed by the silence of the authorities that include the Ministry of Transport Malaysia (MoT) and Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom).
"One of Mavcom's function is to provide mechanism for protection of consumers and the commission should have stepped forward to announce clearly what measures are in place or will be introduced for customers to get their money back," he added.
He pointed out that while it is painful enough for individual passengers to wait indefinitely for refunds, the agony is multiplied manifold among travel agents with angry customers constantly on their back.
"Airlines should give full refund for payments made by passengers and travel agents without applying standard terms and conditions, which are applicable during normal times but not in a pandemic.
"Airlines should also not differentiate between group bookings for Group Inclusive Tour (GOT) and individuals travelling as Free Independent Travellers (FIT). The same treatment will hasten refunds across the board and recovery post-pandemic," Shazli said.
In addition, the vice-president of air transportation said that MoT must take into cognisance that airlines are the first in the long line of supply chains and every action taken by them will ripple across the entire industry.
MATTA is looking forward to MoT issuing a directive to airlines that include notifying passengers and travel agents that normal cancellation and rebooking charges do not apply from the time of the Covid-19 outbreak until the end of the pandemic, and granting the options for cash refund or available credit to be used within three years.
Other than that, MATTA will ensure that booking allowed within two years from the original date of travel and refunds for flight cancellations must be made in full, including ancillary fees paid.
Shazli concluded that if refunds due to travel agents are unfairly withheld, affected passengers will not be getting back their money. It could trigger unnecessary lawsuits, which do not auger well for the tourism industry.