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Qatar Airways Has Paid Out $1.2 Billion in Refunds Since March

Qatar Airways Has Paid Out $1.2 Billion in Refunds Since March

Over $1.5 billion has been paid out in refunds by Qatar Airways since the beginning of March after the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of passengers were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 600,000 customers have so far received refunds for cancelled flights as the Doha-based airline comes close to clearing its backlog of outstanding claims.

With just four per cent of claims left to process, Qatar Airways said on Tuesday that it was now able to handle new requests within 30 days of receiving a claim. At the height of the pandemic, the carrier struggled to cope as more than 10,000 requests a day deluged the airline’s customer service department.

To help handle the unprecedented demand, Qatar Airways even drafted in grounded cabin crew to help in its call centres.

“The amount we have paid out in refunds has undoubtedly had an impact on our bottom line,” admitted Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker. “But it is our duty to do the right thing by our customers and trade partners and as an airline we are strong enough to mitigate the impact of this,” he continued.

Thankfully for the state-owned Qatar Airways, its backers have very deep pockets but many airlines have faced a lot of criticism for their attempts to avoid refund obligations. Initially, airlines only wanted to offer travel vouchers and then started to delay the refund process in order to keep hold of as much liquidity as possible.

As airlines grounded their fleets in late March and early April both the U.S. Department of Transport and European transport commission made moves to enforce existing policies on cancelled flight refunds.

“The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control,” the DOT said in an enforcement notice in April.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade body that represents the vast majority of airlines around the world, however, argued in March that its members should be allowed to offer vouchers instead of refunds in the case of flight cancellations.

IATA argued cash-strapped airlines couldn’t afford to provide refunds but their calls to loosen consumer protection rules were largely ignored.

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