Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic rated the worst airlines at dealing with refunds in 2020

Isabel Choat
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP</span>
Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic have been rated the worst airlines for customer service by people who tried to get a refund after their flight was cancelled.

Both airlines scored “abysmally low” in a survey conducted by Which? Travel, with eight out of 10 customers saying they were dissatisfied with the refund service they received after their flight was cancelled in 2020.

Millions of flights were grounded in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus crisis, leaving people fighting for refunds which they are legally entitled to receive within seven days of cancellation.

The survey also found that a third of respondents who had a flight cancelled by Ryanair or Virgin Atlantic waited more than three months for their refund. None of the Ryanair passengers surveyed received their refund within the legal time frame.

Of the six airlines Which? asked about Jet2 came out top with a satisfaction score of 76%. Eight out of 10 Jet2 passengers (83%) told Which? they received their refund within 28 days, with 34%receiving it within seven days. None reported waiting more than three months.

Tui had the second highest satisfaction score, at 57%, followed by British Airways with 50%. Easyjet scored 45%.

Half of British Airways passengers received their refund within seven days, which was better than any other airline in the survey. However, in separate research conducted this month, Which? found that both British Airways and Ryanair are refusing to offer refunds on flights that continue to operate, despite people not being able to travel due to national lockdown rules. Which? asked five airlines about their policies. Jet2, Tui and easyJet said customers could claim a cash refund, even if the flight went ahead. British Airways said passengers had to rebook. Ryanair didn’t respond but its website says passengers can rebook.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “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 Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must be ready to act if any are found to still be breaking the law on refunds.”

The CMA is investigating whether airlines have broken consumer law by failing to offer cash refunds for flights people could not lawfully take because of lockdown laws.

Under the new lockdown, flight cancellations present less of an issue as so few people have bookings, but Boland pointed out that many people whose flights were grounded at the start of the pandemic rebooked for this year, little knowing that they might face the same problem in spring 2021 if travel restrictions have not been eased.

Airlines’ refusal to offer refunds has also hit tour operators’ ability to refund their customers. Under the UK’s Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), package holiday customers are entitled to a refund from their tour operator within 14 days, but unprecedented demand and the refusal of airlines to refund the flight element of the holiday meant operators were unable, or unwilling, to refund within the required timeframe, leaving customers angry and frustrated.

In response to the massive demand for cancellation refunds during the first lockdown, tour operators introduced refund credit notes (RCNs), which entitle customers to either rebook or claim a refund at a later date, which took the 14-day pressure off tour operators. RCNs issued before 31 December 2020 are financially protected up to September 2021, so if a tour operator goes bust before then, the customer will not lose their money.

“Tour operators are caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Derek Moore, deputy chair of the Specialist Travel Association (Aito). “The PTRs say we must refund within a couple of weeks and that’s reasonable, but to refund the cost of the entire holiday, tour operators have to get money back from the airlines first, and the airlines have been incredibly difficult about that.”

Last week Abta, the association of British travel agents, called on the government to support the travel sector to prevent more businesses collapsing.

“Unlike other sectors such as hospitality, there hasn’t been any tailored financial support from the UK government to get travel businesses through the crisis. Other countries, including France and Italy, have established targeted schemes in recognition of the unique challenges facing travel. Similar recognition and support is long overdue from Westminster, and we urge ministers to address this gap urgently,” said a spokesperson.