A number of agents took to Travelinfo’s Facebook site, Open Jaw, last week to complain about Comair flight disruptions – flights that had been cancelled or amended by Comair. Many complained that these flight changes were an ongoing problem, that emails were not answered by the airline, that it was impossible to get hold of its call centre, and that there were no refunds, only vouchers for passengers on these disrupted flights.
Comair responded to Travel News, saying that the March cancellations were due to a combination of two things.
Brian Kitchin, Comair’s executive manager: sales, marketing and distribution, told Travel News that the recent March flight disruptions had been caused by a delay in the arrival of an aircraft. During the business rescue process, many of the airline’s aircraft were returned to their lessors and are being redelivered to the airline now that it is once again operational. Brian said the carrier was expecting roughly one aircraft a month, which it intends to slot into service, allowing the airline to take on more routes and frequencies. An aircraft that was scheduled to arrive last Friday had serviceability issues that required some time to be fixed. As a result, the flights that it had been scheduled to operate were affected.
“We learned some big lessons from this and realised that we need a buffer of a few days between flight arrival and deploying the aircraft back on scheduled services. Additionally, an international scheduling tool that we rely on went down and we had to get in touch with every affected passenger manually about the flight disruptions. We have taken the issue to heart and will do what we can to make sure that clients won’t be subjected to similar disruptions again,” said Brian.
He denied that the disruptions were due to redirection of passengers from flights with low load factors, saying that Comair had seen a strengthening in domestic flight confidence from the time that South Africa’s level three lockdown was reintroduced. “We saw a spike in bookings when level one was announced and there has been a big run on flights in March, particularly over the long weekend.”
Agents have expressed their frustration that the airline is still not providing cash refunds for booking disruptions. Responding to this, Brian said BA’s Travel With Confidence policy allowed clients to make free changes or have their funds converted into a voucher for future travel. He said kulula.com is now processing refunds again.
When Comair restarted flights during December, it initially implemented an unpopular policy of not immediately allowing redemptions of its unflown ticket vouchers to be used over peak season. (https://www.travelnews.co.za/article/no-december-swops-old-kulula-bookings) Brian said this had been due to an incredible backlog in creating travel banks for unflown bookings, which Comair’s team had now caught up on. He confirmed to Travel News that customers with unused bookings for departures between March 14 and November 30, 2020 on kulula.com, or those who held British Airways (operated by Comair) reservations starting with the digits 161 and who had not elected to become creditors, were now be able to use the value of their original ticket for future travel.
“Comair is our partner, and are doing their best to revive the domestic flight market. If we want them to carry on flying, we need to support them and understand that the current situation is still quite fluid,” said Ramon Geldenhuys, ceo of 360 Degrees Travel.
Vanya Lessing, ceo of Sure Travel, said it was not just BA Comair that was not providing cash refunds to clients. “While it is understandable that airlines are trying to protect their cash reserves, it is very difficult for agents to deal with this as they are at the frontline, having to explain to customers (without compensation from the airline) why they cannot receive their money back for services that did not take place.”