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Air France states that for COVID-19 related cancellations:

"... or complete the online form below to obtain a travel voucher. This voucher is valid for 1 year on all Air France, KLM, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic flights. This voucher will be refundable after one year if it is not used."

Source

That seems like a ploy to circumvent EU261 regulations which I believe require a full refund in cases of cancellations. Air France is offering sort of a refund but with one year delay built in.

Background: we have an US<->India ticket booked on Expedia with an Air France ticket. We obviously can't fly this and some legs have already been cancelled anyway. We like a full refund, not airline credit.

Question: What's the best strategy to approach this? We shouldn't really call Expedia until 72-hours before departure, Air France says "call your travel agent" and I'm worried that Expedia will simply say "airline is offering credit: take it or leave it. EU261 is not our problem". Does anyone have some experience with Air France cancellations recently?

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  • Your only option is to call Expedia. It is their problem and their problem alone, not the airline's, though how much effort you will need to go through to make them see this is a question I can't answer. Unfortunately this is the way it works when you use Online Travel Agents. You now know not to use them again in the future at least.
    – Muzer
    Mar 23 '20 at 13:05
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    @Moo: "Get a lawyer" basically boils down to "write it off", because the cost of hiring a lawyer is likely to far exceed the amount of money at stake. Is that, in fact, your recommendation, and can you explain why you don't think any other options are feasible? Mar 23 '20 at 13:49
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    You wouldn't necessarily need a lawyer to take legal action. Depending where you live, a small claims process is likely to be available. Many people have sued airlines through a small claims process in order to enforce EU261 rights, and either won or had the airline settle for the amount owed.
    – MJeffryes
    Mar 23 '20 at 14:42
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    @MJeffryes we live in a different world now - this world is one where many airlines are going to be bankrupted by EU261 and as such there might not be anything for a small claims court to award or bailiffs to collect. This question is almost certainly going to become a specimen one for all EU airlines issuing vouchers instead of refunds (there’s already an almost identical one just been posted), so think wider than “Air France is a government owned airline and won’t go bankrupt” (even that isn’t guaranteed) because this is a much wider issue now.
    – Moo
    Mar 23 '20 at 15:45
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    @Moo Sure, but I'm disagreeing with the comments saying that you should write it off because taking legal action will require paying a lawyer.
    – MJeffryes
    Mar 23 '20 at 16:49
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I would say that at least Air France is being fairly up front in light of the (probable) fact that their cash flow does not suffice for the refunds that they are obliged to provide. If they hadn't come up with this voucher policy and instead decided to acknowledge their obligations up front, they would probably nonetheless drag their feet a year or more before actually giving you the money.

That said, the regulation does in fact specify reimbursement within seven days. So you could pursue them if you want to. Short of hiring a lawyer, the regulation provides that you can seek enforcement through the national enforcement body designated under Article 16(1). A list of such bodies is found on the website of the European Commission.

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    Given the current climate and international restrictions affecting carriers wholesale (with some airlines having to park their entire fleets and thus cancel thousands or tens of thousands of flights), the “seven days” clause is going to utterly destroy many airlines if they are held to it, so most aren’t going to bother and will sort it out later if they survive - if they don’t survive, it’s not their problem anyway, and if they do survive, they are almost certainly going to be given huge leeway by authorities and courts. There’s no point in surviving this only to be bankrupted by EU261.
    – Moo
    Mar 23 '20 at 15:27
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    @Moo yes. If the airline can't pay, they won't pay. But making the claim could put the claimant ahead in the queue, leading to getting the money back faster than without the claim. In other words, it might help, and it won't hurt.
    – phoog
    Mar 23 '20 at 15:35
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    It could hurt - if enough people put claims in, the airline may decide to enter bankruptcy there and then based on the liabilities it knows are being claimed. With vouchers, they are future liabilities, but claims are immediate liabilities and could be enough to tip the balance for the company.
    – Moo
    Mar 23 '20 at 15:40
  • @phoog At least the German national enforcement body claims they have no power to force a pay-out
    – Crazydre
    Mar 23 '20 at 18:40
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    NB: German news reports that IATA has demanded the EU that airlines get more time to process refund claims.
    – gerrit
    Apr 23 '20 at 15:31

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