Airlines failing on commitments to speed up refunds
Which? has seen evidence that the airlines are failing to improve their refund processes, with some passengers having been left out of pocket since March.
Under EU law, UK and EU airlines are obliged to refund passengers for cancelled flights within seven days, but many airlines have been taking months to issue refunds during the coronavirus pandemic.
The findings come after the CAA reviewed airlines’ behaviour and identified several carriers that weren’t paying refunds ‘sufficiently quickly’. However, it opted not to take enforcement action after receiving commitments from the airlines to improve their performance.
But Which? found that Ryanair, Tui and Virgin are falling short of the promises they made to the regulator.
Following the regulator’s review, Ryanair published a commitment on its website that all refund requests up to the end of May would be cleared by 31 July.
But Which? has heard from Ryanair passengers who are still waiting for refunds from March, and who are still trying to get cash refunds after they were initially sent vouchers despite requesting cash refunds.
Ryanair declined to comment.
Virgin Atlantic told the CAA its maximum waiting time for refunds was 120 days.
But Which? heard from two passengers who have been waiting more than 130 days for refunds for flights that were cancelled in March.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “Since April, we have been focussed on making improvements wherever possible. We’ve boosted the size of the team dedicated to processing refunds five-fold, with over 200 people now directly involved. This has increased our capacity to process a greater number of refunds, more quickly and we continue to minimise the wait time for existing refund requests.”
Tui was reprimanded by the CAA for issuing vouchers and then making customers wait a further 28 days before they could apply for their money back.
However, despite telling the regulator it is no longer automatically issuing vouchers, Tui still states on its website that customers must wait for a voucher before they can claim a cash refund.
Which? has heard from a passenger who is yet to even receive the voucher that she needs to claim her refund – or received any other communication from Tui – after her flight was cancelled in April.
A Tui spokesperson said: “Customers with cancelled flight only bookings which were due to depart before 11 July were issued refund credit vouchers, and could then apply for a cash refund via our online form. These refunds were processed within 28 days.
“Customers with cancelled flight only bookings which were due to depart from 11 July onwards will automatically receive cash refunds. These refunds will be processed within 14 days.”
Restoring trust in the travel sector
Following its review, the CAA said a number of airlines have committed to speeding up the time it is taking to process refunds without requiring enforcement action, and that it would continue to monitor those airlines and continue to push for further improvements.
It said it would consider if enforcement action was appropriate if airlines failed to meet their commitments.
The CAA said: “We will review any supplementary evidence provided to us by Which? – beyond the 12,000 submitted to us during the review – but we will need to see individual examples in order to consider what further action is needed with the airlines.”
Which? is calling for the government to enhance the CAA’s existing powers to allow it to more easily take quick action against airlines that repeatedly disregard the law.
The consumer champion believes this should be the first of a series of reforms to the travel industry, to help ensure the future of international travel from the UK and to help restore consumer trust in the sector.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Time after time, Which? has exposed airlines breaking the law on refunds for cancelled flights due to the pandemic and treating their passengers unfairly, and we’re concerned that they now feel empowered to do as they please without fear of punishment.
“Passengers must be able to rely on a regulator that has effective powers to protect their rights – especially at a time of unprecedented turmoil. The government needs to step up and ensure the CAA has the tools it needs to hold airlines to account, or risk consumer trust in the travel industry being damaged beyond repair.”