Expatica news

Airfare refunds remain a sticking point

The head of a major Swiss travel agency has complained that Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) is not helping to reimburse clients fast enough.

In the event of cancellations such as those prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Swiss package tour operators are legally obliged to provide refunds. But according to Thomas Stirnimann, the chief executive officer of Hotelplan, SWISS is not repaying the travel agents promptly.

In an interview published in CH-Media newspapers on Monday, Stirnimann explained that the travel agencies were advancing millions of francs in customer money to SWISS, and thus to the Lufthansa Group. Yet Stirnimann said that “practically nothing” had been paid back to the tour operators, leaving them struggling to reimburse customers.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Stirnimann. “SWISS collected the customers’ money and then unilaterally blocked the refunds in its systems.”

For its part, SWISS told swissinfo.ch on Monday that it was indeed refunding individual customers as well as agencies, but that these payments were taking longer than usual due to the high demand.

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“We would like to emphasize that SWISS does not question the claims of its customers or tour operators for ticket refunds,” SWISS spokesman Marco Lipp told swissinfo.ch. “Furthermore, we are complying with the requirement of the Swiss government to reimburse all tour operators for all claims arising from Covid-19 cancellations by September 30, 2020, at the latest.”

This is longer than Stirnimann wants to wait. “I expect first repayments as soon as the first tranche of bank loans flows, not in September,” he said, adding that the package tour law should be revised to ensure that airlines are held as responsible as travel agents.

Government funds

Earlier this month, the Swiss parliament approved a credit of CHF1.875 billion ($1.92 billion) to support SWISS and other aviation companies that ensure vital transport infrastructure for the Swiss economy.

In Germany, the federal authorities are working out a deal with SWISS parent Lufthansa to provide similar support.