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Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic rated worst for flight refunds

Written by: Emma Lunn
Both airlines received abysmally low scores for making customers wait months for their money back for cancelled flights, according to Which?

Rather than running its annual airlines survey, Which? focused on customer experiences of seeking a refund from their carrier after having a flight cancelled due to coronavirus.

Which? asked people about their experiences of getting their money back from the UK’s six major airlines after having a flight cancelled last year. It asked how satisfied people were with their refund offer, and how satisfied they were with the customer service they received.

The worst airlines for refunds

Both Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic were given a customer satisfaction score of just 13% in the survey.

Eight in 10 (79%) Ryanair passengers surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the customer service they received while trying to get a refund. A fraction more (84%) Virgin Atlantic passengers said they were dissatisfied.

One in four (26%) Ryanair passengers were satisfied with their refund offer, suggesting some people were happy with accepting a voucher or waiting a bit longer to get their money back.

However, only one in six (16%) Virgin Atlantic passengers said the same. Virgin Atlantic primarily offers long-haul flights, so its initial policy of automatically issuing credit notes rather than cash refunds for flights costing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, was not well received by customers in the survey.

A third of respondents who had a flight cancelled by the two airlines (Ryanair 32%, Virgin Atlantic 31%) told Which? they waited more than three months for their refund.

None of the Ryanair passengers surveyed received their refund within the legal time frame of seven days after the cancellation. Many Ryanair customers were left waiting months for their money back as they spent hours of their time trying to contact the airline.

A statement from Ryanair said: “All Ryanair passengers who have requested a refund since our offices reopened on 1 June have now received these refunds. There is no backlog of refunds.”

Meanwhile Virgin Atlantic set itself what Which? calls ‘an unambitious target’ of refunding its passengers within 120 days of their flight being cancelled – a target it failed to meet, in some cases.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers, whether that’s to amend, rebook or cancel plans. As planned, we completed the backlog of refunds in November and returned to processing refunds within normal timeframes.

“Since 1 March 2020, we’ve processed c.£550m worth of cash refunds to Virgin Atlantic customers, comprising c.245,000 refund claims. As soon as we identified any refunds over 120 days, they were escalated for review and immediate payment. These incidences were a very small proportion of the thousands of refunds successfully provided within the committed timeframe.”

The best airlines for refunds

At the other end of the table Jet2 had a satisfaction score of 76%. Eight in 10 (83%) Jet2 passengers told Which? they received their refund within 28 days. One in three (34%) received their money within the legal time frame of seven days. None reported waiting more than three months.

While the airline did not always proactively inform customers of their right to a cash refund, instead encouraging them to rebook for another date, customers told Which? it processed refunds without quibbling when they were requested.

Jet2 was also the only airline in the survey to be named a Which? Recommended Provider.

Tui received the second highest satisfaction score, at 57%, followed by British Airways with 50%.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “These findings will come as no surprise to the millions of people left chasing their airline for their money back after suffering a flight cancellation last year. Billions of pounds were illegally withheld from customers, and to add insult to injury, these results demonstrate that many of these customers had to also put up with abysmal customer service through the process.

“As the UK approaches the anniversary of the first nationwide lockdown, it’s vital that lessons are learned from the previous handling of refunds and cancellations. Airlines cannot be allowed to continue to behave in this way, so the CMA and CAA must be ready to act if any are found to still be breaking the law on refunds.”


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