The world’s biggest carrier of intercontinental passengers has told passengers whose flights are cancelled that they should accept vouchers that are redeemable after a year. 

Emirates stopped flying on Wednesday after the UAE closed the country’s airports in response to the growing coronavirus crisis – leaving hundreds of thousands of British travellers with grounded flights.

EU regulations require any airline that cancels a flight to offer a full cash refund within a week.

But the Dubai-based carrier has told UK customers that passengers are urged to accept what is effectively an IOU repayable in a year.

A spokesperson for Emirates said: “Customers can opt for travel vouchers which can be easily processed on our website.

“These vouchers can be used against future Emirates flights within 12 months. If vouchers are not utilised after 12 months, they can still be brought to us for refunds.”

The spokesperson said: “We will still process refunds based on applicable fare rules and regulations of the market in which we operate, but it is going to take time.

“That is why we encourage customers to keep their tickets or opt for travel vouchers which can be easily processed on our website.”

However, an alternative is to keep the basic booking but then use it at any time for a similar routing within two years – regardless of high-season charges.

The airline said: “We will accept the fare you paid for any flight at any time within this period.

“If you’re booking is fully cancelled you don’t have to decide or contact us right now. Just call our contact centre when you’re ready to book again.”

Emirates is even allowing passengers accepting this option to switch destinations, so long as they stay in the same region. So an off-season holiday flight to Kenya could be traded for a Christmas and New Year trip to South Africa, normally costing far more.

The regions of interest to UK travellers are: Africa, Australasia, the Far East, the Gulf, the Middle East and Iran Indian Ocean Islands and West Asia.

An Emirates spokesperson said: “To give customers whose flights are cancelled peace of mind, we are allowing customers to keep their ticket for use up to any period 24 months from the date of the original booking without the need to contact us.”

“We ask for our customers’ understanding and patience during this time of unprecedented crisis for all airlines.” The Emirates “refundable voucher” scheme mirrors a similar offer by United Airlines – but affects far more people.

British Airways is promising refunds for passengers whose flights are cancelled. But BA has disabled the refund option from its website, and insists that passengers must call the airline.

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