Airlines have been accused of withholding passengers' cash refunds and instead offering travel vouchers as they struggle to keep their current cash flow intact following the near collapse of the global aviation sector as a result of travel restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kenya Association of Travel Agents (Kata) is now seeking the intervention of the International Air Travel Association (IATA) to compel airlines accredited to it to fast-track refunds for passengers who booked flights through travel agents during this crisis but could not travel.
Kata Chief Executive Officer Agnes Mucuha accused the airlines of taking unnecessarily long to process refunds owed to passengers who booked flights through travel agents, thus causing customers even more distress.
Kenya's travel industry grounded to a halt last month, following the government's directive to suspend all international flights into the country.
Consequently, passengers who had bookings with airlines through their travel agents opted to cancel their itineraries and sought full refunds.
Kenya has more than 15 international airlines operating in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Mombasa International Airport.
"Several airlines have been responding to the refund requests by issuing vouchers under the name of the booked passenger, instead of issuing a cash refund through the travel agent.
"This has caused conflict for the agents, as customers are demanding full refunds paid out in cash, because they do not have immediate travel plans in the foreseeable future. This has also led to a stalemate between customers and travel agents," said Ms Mucuha, adding that the travel agents can't assign this voucher on other bookings owing to their restrictions.
Kenya Airways is issuing one-year travel vouchers as it seeks to protect the little cash reserves it still has. This comes as KQ, just like other airlines, seek government bailouts to protect their operations, pointing to their weak cash positions.
IATA has indicated that its members are facing an unprecedented high number of global refunds requests, and becoming the leading cause for processing delays.
According to the airlines agency, refunds shall be guided by the airline's commercial policy guideline while determining the "valid" refund value on the tickets.
Ordinarily, the travel agents submit refund applications through the airline booking portals or in this case through the IATA regulated portal, and upon assessment of the "valid" refund request, the airline authorises the "valid" refund through the same portal and remits it to the travel agent. In turn, the agent processes the refunds back to their customers.
The Kenya Association of Travel Agents has pushed for immediate intervention saying that it is imperative that the IATA steps in to provide immediate solutions for the industry.