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Trust in the travel industry ‘at record low’

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Trust in the travel industry has plunged to a record low as airlines and holiday companies continue to deny and delay refunds for coronavirus cancellations.

Research by Which? found that trust in airlines and holiday companies has dropped from a net score of nine in February 2020 to minus 12 in May 2020 – a drop of 21 points

It’s the lowest score recorded in the seven years Which? has collected the data.

Which? surveyed more than 2,000 people about their level of trust in airlines and holiday operators between the 13 May and 15 May – eight weeks after the UK’s lockdown grounded most international travel.

Just one in five (22%) said they trust these industries, while 34 per cent said they did not trust them, giving a net score of minus 12.

This is in comparison to three in 10 (32%) people saying they trusted the sectors in February – just shortly after the coronavirus outbreak began in the UK – and nearly a quarter (23%) saying they did not trust airlines and holiday companies, giving a net score of nine.

Seven in 10 people surveyed by Which? who had booked a holiday or flight prior to the lockdown had some or all of their plans cancelled, with the majority (58%) still waiting for their money to be returned to them.

Of those waiting for their money back for a cancelled trip, nearly half (47%) have been left more than £500 out of pocket, and nearly three in 10 (27%) are owed more than £1,000.

Holiday cancellations: Your rights

Under the Denied Boarding Regulations, if you’re due to fly with an airline based in the UK or EU, or are flying from an airport in the UK or EU, you’re protected if your flight is cancelled, and should be refunded within seven days.

For package holidays, the Package Travel Regulations state that customers whose holidays are cancelled by the operator in these circumstances should receive a full refund within 14 days of the cancellation.

Trust below zero

It is only the second time since Which?’s records began that the net score for trust in airlines and holiday companies has dropped below zero.

The only previous occasion net trust in the industry entered negative figures was briefly after the collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019, when the net score decreased to -1 per cent.

Breaking the law on refunds

UK holiday firms and airlines have been accused of openly breaking the law by delaying refunds for cancelled trips or removing customers’ refund rights altogether, as they face unprecedented strain due to the coronavirus crisis.

The industry’s own estimates suggest up to £7bn of travellers’ money is affected.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Government hasn’t made any changes to the law about holiday and flight refunds. However, it hasn’t taken any significant action to ensure consumers can access the refunds they are legally entitled to.

The European Commission has taken steps to set out how member states can make Refund Credit Notes (RCNs) more appealing by ensuring they are financially protected, but the UK government has yet to confirm if RCNs are ATOL-protected.

This leaves customers who accept one at risk of losing their money should their holiday provider fail, and adding further confusion to the situation around refund options.

Further damage

Which? is now warning that Government intervention is essential to prevent any further damage to the travel industry, and has called on the Government to urgently support the industry to fulfil its legal obligations to its customers.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, says: “These latest figures are a damning indictment of the behaviour of many airlines and holiday companies in recent weeks.

“With customers being told to either wait months for their money back or accept a voucher that may prove worthless if a company fails, it should come as a surprise to no-one that trust has plummeted so drastically.

“Any further delay risks permanent damage to trust in the travel industry. The regulator must come down strongly on any airlines found to be systemically denying or delaying refunds for cancelled flights and holidays, and the government must urgently set out how it will support the industry and restore trust in the sector.”