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Community / Jarl squads still waiting on refunds of over £50,000 from airline for cancelled New York Trip

Trip organiser Martin Summers says after 11 weeks it is ‘time for British Airways to settle the refund’

Lerwick Jarl Liam Summers and his squad during the morning procession at the 2020 Up Helly Aa. Photo: Chris Brown

THREE jarl squads which were due to travel to New York for the annual Tartan Week event are still awaiting refunds from British Airways totalling over £50,000.

A group of 116 were due to fly to New York on 1 April, but months later they are still waiting on refunds of £57,382.82 from British Airways.

This is despite a deposit of £4,412 being paid back on 17 April.

A spokesperson for British Airways said on Thursday afternoon that the airline has apologised to its customers, and is in “contact with them to resolve this issue”.

The Lerwick, Delting and Bressay Up Helly Aa jarl squads were set to take part in the Tartan Day parade in early April, but the event was cancelled due to lockdown measures.

The group were due to take British Airways flights from Aberdeen via London Heathrow to JFK Airport in New York.

One of the trip’s organisers Martin Summers said that while the group can understand the tough circumstances airline staff are working under, the situation is “not helpful for some families in our group who have been laid off from their work and struggling at this time”.

“We never expected the refunds to be sorted straight away – everyone in the party understood the need to deal with the immediate fallout of the pandemic, and that industries across the world had been turned upside down with loss of income,” he said.

“However, 11 weeks on we feel it’s time for British Airways to settle the refund with our booking. We have spoken time and time again to their group sales team, and formally written to them.

“Unfortunately we get a stock response back that ‘we’re unable to advise you when the bank transfer will be arranged, as customer relations don’t have the systems that our refunds team use’.

“They went on to say it will be refunded but cannot give me any timescale to this and push back action by a couple of weeks.

“I’m unsure why for example, they couldn’t just refund our booking by issuing a cheque.”

Summers said due to the scale of the booking the initial payment could not be made by card, so the group is not protected through that.

“We absolutely acknowledge their front line staff are doing everything they can during tough circumstances,” he added.

“Furthermore, we understand that with everything else going on in the world at the moment, our situation is of little importance, but this is not helpful for some families in our group who have been laid off from their work and struggling at this time.”

Summers said the group feels British Airways are “risking long-term reputational damage”.

He said the airline could also “learn from local businesses who have gone above and beyond to help customers at these difficult times”.

The group have received refunds from other operators including coach companies in the UK and US, and visitor attractions based in New York, but it still has also outstanding refunds from event and accommodation operators.  

Summers confirmed that a complaint has been registered with British Airways, and they are preparing a complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority.

They have also reached out to Beatrice Wishart MSP and Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

British Airways has been contacted for comment.