TOPSHOT - A passenger walks in an empty Lufthansa terminal at the "Franz-Josef-Strauss" airport in Munich, southern Germany, on May 27, 2020. - Coronavirus-stricken airline group Lufthansa wavered on May 27, 2020 on grabbing a nine-billion-euro ($9.9 billion) German state lifeline, throwing up new turbulence for a rescue that could decide the fate of the historic company. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
A virtually empty terminal at Munich airport this month, as travel disruption continued © AFP via Getty Images

My column on air passengers’ difficulties in obtaining the refunds to which they are legally entitled prompted many responses, both in the comments section and in emails. Readers had their own stories and some, as we shall see, thought I had been unfair.

To make up for the cancellation of ceremonies such as the Olivier Awards and the Turner Prize, I have decided to group the reactions into a series of awards.


The Loreto Prize

This is named after Our Lady of Loreto, designated by the Vatican in 1920 as the patron saint of aviation. The prize goes to below-the-line commenter Jacques5646, who said that while he “felt sorry for those low-cost users who have painstakingly saved the money for their annual vacation”, the rest of us should consider the airline workers whose jobs were at stake and the airlines that risked going bust. Music-festival ticket holders were holding off on demanding refunds in order to save the events for future years, he said. “What about [doing the same for] your favourite airline (even if it treats you more and more like cattle)?”


The Severus Snape Award

This prize takes its name from the villainous Harry Potter character who had, it transpired, actually been carrying out valorous deeds all along. Last time, I shamed British Airways for offering vouchers online but requiring passengers who wanted refunds to call a number, which was often impossible to reach. BA has long been a villain for this column’s readers, but on this occasion many leapt to its defence.

“I phoned BA, got through in under two minutes, had a full cash refund offered within a few minutes and, notwithstanding the following day was a bank holiday, received the money in my bank account two days later,” one reader emailed me.


The Granny Award

This prize is based on an interview Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, gave to the FT in 2003, in which he told passengers who asked for their money back because their granny was ill: “What part of no refund don’t you understand?”

One FT reader told me that after weeks of waiting for his Ryanair refund, he contacted the airline via Twitter. “I duly received an email which I foolishly thought might contain the details of my refund.” Instead, it had a voucher attached. “If I did not want this voucher then I should click on the link for a full refund. Guess where that took me? Yes, to the Ryanair page where you could claim YOUR VOUCHER.”

The rules do not require airlines to refund money if the passenger’s granny is ill, but they do require a prompt refund when flights are cancelled. Ryanair told me that anyone who didn’t want a voucher would get their money “once this unprecedented crisis is over”.

So the Granny Award goes, fittingly, to Ryanair, for its failure to know the answer to the question: “Which part of the law don’t you understand?”


The Brass Neck Trophy

This goes to Air France-KLM for palming off an FT reader by saying that a number of EU member states had asked the European Commission to amend the rule that passengers have a right to their money back. Some governments have indeed made this request, but the Commission has said no.

But what clinched the prize was the airline telling the customer that “in the Netherlands, the Minister of Infrastructure & Water Management, who has responsibility for transport, instructed the Transport Inspectorate to accept that airlines do not have to refund the ticket price to passengers” — despite the clarity of the EU law to the contrary.

I had hoped to present Air France-KLM with a proper trophy of a brass neck but, with factory closures, this has not been possible, so I hope they will accept a voucher instead.

Follow Michael on Twitter @Skapinker or email him at michael.skapinker@ft.com

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