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Published on Friday, May 29, 2020

Southall Travel puts pressure on airlines over slow refunds




Southall Travel Group is in talks with airlines who are making it difficult to process speedy refunds for cancelled flights.

It says a large number of airlines have disabled travel agent access to the standard GDS refund system, which was faster and more effective.

Instead, the group says its agents have had to switch to a manual process, completing an application form for every passenger on the booking, which is more time consuming and labour intensive.

Southall says it's 'at the mercy of the airline's slow and inefficient refund process' and is in discussions with airlines to get the process speeded up.


Only a handful of airlines are still on the GDS, but Southall chief commercial officer Jaymin Borkhatria said some were now working a little faster.

With package holiday refunds, meanwhile, Southall says it has managed to keep within the legal 14-day deadline and has now processed 94% of cash refunds to package holiday customers travelling up until 31 May.

Furthermore, the group, which serves 1.1 million customers each year, will have issued refunds to package holiday customers travelling up until 30 June by 15 June.

During the pandemic crisis, the group increased its refund processing team from 15 to 300 to handle the unprecedented number of customer requests, hiring some additional staff to cope with the rush.


By significantly increasing its call centre capacity, Southall said average call waiting times dropped to just two minutes.

"We will lose millions but money is secondary to us with this situation. The customer is most important. We have generations of repeat customers and we are lucky because we have enough cash reserves to take us through this, even if it goes on for another year," said Borkhatria.

"We decided straight away that we were going to fullfil our obligations and we wouldn't tell our customers they need to wait for their money."


When asked if other travel companies have been wrong to issue Credit Refund Notes and ask customers to wait months for refunds, Borkhatria said: "It's a difficult one. Even the regulators are scratching their heads at the moment. It's not just the industry that wasn't prepared; whole countries were not prepared and didn't act fast enough."


He said as a privately-owned UK travel business, operating for more than 35 years, Southall was in an enviable position.


"We have a strong business model with significant cash reserves, giving us the ability to adapt quickly and effectively," he said.

"We are meeting all of our legal requirements and in many cases, going above and beyond, such as our early decision to abide by the 'Package Travel Regulations' and provide full refunds on package holidays. We are one of the few travel companies in the UK to have offered full refunds on packages, a decision which has been incredibly well received by our customers."


Southall Travel has also updated its deposit policy, so customers now only need to pay the remainder of the balance 10 days before departure, instead of one month. Until that time, no cancellation fees will be incurred.


"We believe we are the only business in the OTA sector to have done this, as we recognise these are extremely difficult times, and we wish to help our customers through and provide them with as much support as we can offer," added Borkhatria.
 

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