If you’ll be stepping onto a flight this week, consider yourself among the lucky ones.
Across Australia and around the world, flights are being cancelled and routes and countries abandoned at a rate unimaginable to anybody but the most creatively-juiced author whose paperback plot involves the plague, zombies, or both.
And those cancellations are mounting. By the end of this week, Qantas and Virgin Australia will have suspended all international flights and further slashed their domestic schedules as the federal and state governments roll out a range of lockdowns.
Emirates and Etihad are expected to be grounded in the next few days, after the UAE declared a ban on all passenger flights.
Cathay Pacific, which once connected the world via Hong Kong, will now fly to just 12 destinations – with Sydney the only one in Australia – just three times a week.
Singapore Airlines, hit by not only a global slump in demand but new laws which ban visitors from Singapore and in-transit passengers from Changi Airport, will be flying only nine aircraft shared with its regional arm SilkAir to a handful of cities.
The only flight between Australia and North American will be a sole daily United Airlines’ Boeing 787 between Sydney and San Francisco
By next week, the skies above Australia will be eerily empty as we reach ‘peak cancellation’.
Also empty: the bank accounts of most would-be travellers, who are finding that after cancelling their flight, airlines largely insist on issuing a credit voucher rather than refunding the airfare.
The money or the box?
At the time of writing, of all the airlines mentioned above, only one – Cathay Pacific – offers the no-strings option of a full refund.
That may change as the number of cancellations soars, with no clear end-date in sight.
But in those circumstances, airlines may also decide that they need your money – yours, and everybody else’s – to wait the pandemic storm and be back in the air when you want to be.
However, a similar argument can be made that customers need the money, too.
As cities shut down, businesses close down and the spectre of a recession looms, that money – paid in advance for a business trip or a holiday – might be better back in your bank account.
New world, new rules
Travel vouchers are normally issued against cancellations because passengers will book a flight not too far in the future. But these are far from normal times.
Even if airlines extend the 12-month use-by date of a voucher issued against a coronavirus cancellation, will passengers be prepared to travel once flights resume?
Executive Traveller readers: what are your expectations of how airlines should handle these coronavirus cancellations – is a travel voucher sufficient, or should airlines pony up for a full refund?
And if airlines insist on issuing credit tone used against a future booking, should they up the ante by increasing the value of the voucher or allow doubler status credits on that vouchered booking, as a form of ‘interest’ for holding your money?