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BA and EasyJet accused of ignoring EU guidance on voucher refunds

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Written by: Emma Lunn
09/11/2020
Which? says British Airways and EasyJet are going against EU guidance and refusing to refund unused vouchers for flights cancelled during the pandemic.

Some passengers willingly accepted vouchers in place of cash refunds when their flights were cancelled because of coronavirus, believing they were helping the airlines.

But others claim they weren’t told they were entitled to cash refunds, or that they were misled into accepting vouchers they didn’t want.

The European Commission issued guidance in May recommending that airlines automatically refund any unused vouchers 14 days after they expire. However, this is only guidance, not a legal requirement.

While Ryanair says its vouchers can be refunded at any time, BA and Easyjet insist that once issued, their vouchers can’t be exchanged for cash. That means passengers could be left hundreds of pounds out of pocket if they do not use the vouchers by the time they expire.

Under EU Regulation 261, when flights are cancelled by an EU airline or by an airline flying from an EU airport, passengers are entitled to a cash refund within seven days of the cancellation.

But after the pandemic grounded most flights leaving the UK earlier this year, all of the UK’s biggest airlines failed to meet this legal requirement, and many passengers were given vouchers instead.

At the height of the pandemic, many customers with cancelled flights struggled to contact airlines to ask for their money back. Which? says BA customers in particular complained after the airline removed its online refund form from its website and directed people to its overwhelmed customer service line.

Some BA passengers have also complained to Which? that they automatically received vouchers for cancelled flights when they thought they’d applied for refunds through the website’s ‘Manage my booking’ page.

BA denies its claims process is misleading and says it has issued more than 2.1 million cash refunds. It said it is clear that customers must call to request cash refunds, and insists that they only get a voucher if they fill out a form that clearly states they are requesting a voucher.

While Easyjet passengers can request a refund online when their flight is cancelled, some willingly accepted vouchers to help support the airline. But some passengers now may not be able to use their vouchers because the airline has cut back on routes in recent months. Easyjet has said it will only refund vouchers in “exceptional circumstances as a gesture of goodwill”.

A number of Easyjet’s flight routes have yet to restart, while the airline has pulled out of Southend Airport and dropped a number of routes from Newcastle and Stansted airports.

Easyjet’s vouchers are only valid for a year, meaning many passengers may be left with vouchers they can’t use.

BA has dropped 60% of its flights up to the end of this year and also pulled out of the Isle of Man. However, it has extended the validity of its vouchers so they can be used any time up to April 2022.

On top of ignoring guidance on refunds for unused vouchers, BA and EasyJet have also said that they will not be offering refunds for flights that operate as scheduled during the current lockdown.

This means many passengers will only have the option of rebooking their flight to a later date if they obey lockdown rules. Ryanair has also said it will not offer refunds for flights that are not cancelled while passengers are in lockdown.

Which? believes the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be doing a better job of making it clear to airlines that they should be following legal guidance on vouchers and refunds. However, the CAA doesn’t have the power to issue fines or take swift action against airlines which break the rules.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “As we head into a winter that is bound to bring more flight cancellations, it’s extremely concerning to see the UK’s biggest airlines disregarding European guidance and letting their passengers down when it comes to their refund rights.

“BA and Easyjet must immediately make it clear that passengers will not face losing their money if they are unable to use a voucher, while all airlines should be offering cash refunds to passengers prevented from travelling by lockdown laws.

“Major airlines have acted shamefully and without fear of consequences during this pandemic – the government must urgently review the CAA’s powers as part of its aviation recovery plan to ensure passengers have a regulator that can effectively stand up for them.”

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