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31 Jul 2020

Charity told it would lose £34,000 for cancelled flights

Flight Centre's initial refusal to refund cancelled BA flights put Scottish orchestra's future in jeopardy

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra was refused a refund for £34,000 it spent on flights for a cancelled American tour, before Which? Travel stepped in.

The orchestra, a registered charity whose patron is Princess Anne, was planning to celebrate its 40th anniversary with a series of concerts in cities including Boston and Montreal earlier this year.

When the flights were cancelled the orchestra should have been entitled to a full refund from British Airways. Instead it was left with a struggle to survive after also losing out on other expenses associated with the tour.

BA said it would not provide a refund because the orchestra's tickets had already mistakenly been cancelled by the travel agent Flight Centre - prior to the airline cancelling the flight. Instead Flight Centre offered 12-month flight credits - which the orchestra was not able to use.

But after pressure from Which?, Flight Centre has now confirmed that the orchestra will receive a full refund.

Sign the petition. Which?'s campaign, 'Refund Us. Reform Travel', demands that airlines urgently refund any passengers still owed money for cancelled flights and holidays.

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Charity's future was put at risk

The SFO treasurer Fiona Brodlie told us that the orchestra's future had been endangered by the failure to recoup the money for flights and other expenses, on top of the difficulties the pandemic has caused for live music.

She says: 'As a result of the Covid pandemic all our concerts for the year and beyond have been cancelled. Our means of recouping the money lost to BA for the cancelled flights had been lost. It was crucial that we recover as much money as possible from BA in order to secure our orchestra's viability.'

The orchestra has over 100 members who all give their time for free, promoting and performing traditional Scottish music around the UK. Princess Anne regularly attends their concerts.

Flight credits - that may be impossible to use

The orchestra contacted Flight Centre about its options in February, when it was already clear that the pandemic would affect travel. It says it made it clear that a refund would be its preference, but at that point, BA had not cancelled the flights so no refunds were available.

Flight Centre could have pointed out that the flights were likely to be cancelled and the orchestra did not have to do anything at all. Legally it would have been due a full refund within seven days of the flights being cancelled by BA.

Instead the orchestra discussed the possibility of moving the flights to late March 2021. It was told that that this was also not possible, because it was more than 12 months after the original date of the flights.

At no point did the orchestra confirm that it wanted to move the date of the flight, or suggest that it was happy to accept flight credits.

But Flight Centre then simply cancelled the tickets and gave the orchestra flight credits for 12 months - which it had already told the agent that it could not use.

British Airways response

BA told us: 'Although the trip was cancelled by the group's travel agent while it was still scheduled to operate, we are able to offer the orchestra the flexibility to rebook up until April 2022.'

However, the orchestra confirmed once again that they do not want a credit extension. They want the full refund they should have received automatically if Flight Centre had not cancelled their tickets.

Flight Centre Response

The agent told us:We would like to sincerely apologise to the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra (SFO) for the confusion over their flights to the USA in March.As is standard procedure in the travel industry, when a customer book flights with us we act as the agent between them and the Airline. As such, we have been working tirelessly and engaging in extensive dialogue with British Airways to try and resolve this situation.

'As per the customers' wishes, we have now processed a full refund for the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra. It's been a difficult time for us, our people and the entire travel industry but we are doing everything we can to assist our valued customers during this time.