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Airlines owe millions of pounds in refunds and expenses

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn
Posted:
Updated:
17/03/2023

UK airlines have racked up millions of pounds in court judgments after failing to pay passenger expenses and refunds.

A study by Which? found that EasyJet, Ryanair, Tui and Wizz Air have had thousands of rulings against them – with Wizz the worst offender.

The four airlines have been told to pay out more than £4.5m in outstanding court judgments between them. Wizz Air accounts for almost half of that figure.

Many claims against Wizz have been enforced by bailiffs who have visited the airline’s Luton Airport office to enforce writs for failure to pay passengers’ refunds, expenses and compensation.

According to official records, Wizz Air has 1,601 ‘outstanding’ county court judgments worth a total of £2,166,044. EasyJet has 884 outstanding judgments, amounting to £611,436, Ryanair has 840 worth £549,892, and Tui has 313 worth £1,261,897.

Wizz was also rated the UK’s worst short haul airline in a Which? survey last month.

What do the airlines say?

The figures Which? used are for county court judgments that are still listed as ‘outstanding’ – i.e. there is not yet any record of them having been paid – on Registry Trust, which is the official register of judgments.

Trust Online, the official register of court judgments, said: “Even when a judgment is paid, the judgment will continue to show as ‘unsatisfied’ until the court records are updated.” But it said that it was the defendant’s (the airline in these cases) responsibility to update the court when payments are made.

EasyJet told Which? that none of the court judgments listed as outstanding are unpaid.

Wizz Air said that it had settled 400 outstanding county court judgments since December and claimed that third-party records weren’t up to date.

Ryanair and Tui didn’t respond to Which?

Wizz Air flight cancellation misery

One Wizz Air passenger was owed more than £4,500 for alternative flights and expenses when Wizz Air cancelled his flight to a family holiday just three hours before departure.

The customer used Money Claims Online to bring a claim against the airline and ended up sending bailiffs to Wizz Air at Luton Airport. Wizz eventually paid up seven months after the cancelled flight.

Dispute resolution scheme failures

EasyJet, Ryanair, Tui and Wizz Air are all members of the dispute resolution scheme AviationADR which theoretically means that passengers needn’t go to court to get money owed.

But Which? Travel has criticised AviationADR on many occasions since it was set up in 2016 when it came under The Retail Ombudsman.

It has highlighted a Wizz Air case where one passenger was given a refund for a cancelled flight, but not expenses, with Wizz air claiming the flight had not been officially cancelled. But another passenger booked on the same flight had an email from Wizz confirming the flight cancellation and a refund.

Wizz said it was looking into the case.

Passengers forced to go to court

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) introduced dispute resolution in 2016 to save passengers from having to take expensive, time-consuming court action.

The majority of UK airlines joined AviationADR, while British Airways joined alternative scheme, CEDR. Jet2 didn’t join any of the adjudication schemes, meaning customers have to escalate complaints to the CAA itself.

How to get money owed if your flight is cancelled or delayed

Under EU laws (retained in British law post-Brexit) passengers are entitled to refunds, expenses – and compensation in many cases – if flights are cancelled or severely delayed.

If the airline hasn’t responded to a legitimate claim – or has turned it down – you can take your case to an adjudication service such as AviationADR or CEDR if the airline is a member.

AviationADR is free, and CEDR charges £25 if your case is not upheld. If the airline isn’t a member of an adjudication scheme, you can take complaints to the CAA.

If you don’t think that the adjudicator made the right judgment, you can use the government’s Money Claims Online service to take the airline to court.