Civil Aviation Authority reveals the best and worst airlines for COVID-19 refunds

Jul 31, 2020

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The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has revealed its best and worst airlines for issuing prompt, straight-forward refunds for COVID-19-cancelled flights. The CAA reviewed 18 major airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet, TUI, Ryanair and Emirates as well as smaller regional players like Loganair and Eastern. A few produced favourable reports from the Authority, but most did not.

As a reminder, when an airline cancels your flight you are entitled to a full refund.

Of the 18 airlines reviewed by the CAA, the best three for refunds were:

All three of the airlines were described in the report as “Doing a good job of refunding passengers in a reasonable time frame and were making it relatively easy to request a refund”. Eastern and Aer Lingus also received favourable feedback from the CAA for their refund action.

Related: Know your refund rights: TPG reader success story

A Jet2 aircraft coming into land (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On the other end of the scale, the following major airlines were criticised by the CAA for their refund processes and timelines:

  • British Airways — Setting aside its much-maligned Future Travel Voucher process, BA passengers had complained to the CAA they couldn’t get through to the airline by phone to even discuss their refund options. BA has promised to increase call centre staff to reduce wait times;
  • EasyJet — Refunds haven’t been so “easy” over at EasyJet, with common backlogs of up to 90 days. Following CAA notice, the airline promises to improve these times down to 30 days;
  • Emirates — One of the worst carriers for refunds, timelines were initially 90 days, which have now only reduced to 50 days following CAA involvement;
  • Etihad — While not initially offering cash refunds at all, Etihad says it will now contact passengers advising them of their rights;
  • Loganair — The majority of Loganair refunds are taking 60-90 days, which is unacceptable in the eyes of the CAA. The airline says it hopes to reduce this to 30 days;
  • Ryanair — Ryanair isn’t known for its stellar customer service at the best of times, and the CAA says it has taken 90 days or longer to issue refunds. Following CAA notice, Ryanair says it will clear 90% of its backlog by the end of this month;
  • TUI — TUI initially had a confusing credit voucher process whereby passengers would originally be issued with a voucher, and then after 28 days could convert this to a cash refund. Following CAA enquiries, TUI will eliminate this voucher step so eligible passengers can access refunds more quickly and simply; and
  • Virgin Atlantic — Initially, passengers would have to wait up to 60 days for refunds. This then ballooned out to 120 days, which was unacceptable to the CAA. Virgin has promised to reduce this down to 30 days but this is likely to take until October. The CAA will continue to monitor Virgin Atlantic’s performance as one of the worst airlines for refunds the CAA has investigated.

Related: Does my travel insurance cover COVID-19?

Tailfins of parked Virgin Atlantic passenger aircraft are pictured on the apron at Heathrow Airport, west of London on April 2, 2020, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would "massively increase testing" amid a growing wave of criticism on Thursday about his government
(Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

The CAA overall identified the following common issues with some airlines:

  • Not providing cash refunds and were only offering the option to rebook or to accept a voucher;
  • Not being clear to passengers what their rights were; and
  • Making it unduly difficult for passengers to contact them to notify them of their request for a refund.

So what is a reasonable timeline for refunds right now? “Regulation EC261/2004 requires refunds to be made within seven days, however, given the sheer scale of flights being cancelled this was very difficult to achieve for many airlines”, the CAA’s report explains. “Our view has been that airlines should make refunds promptly and over time work towards getting as close to the seven days as possible”.

While the CAA does not have the power to issue fines or other penalties itself, it can proceed to seek a court enforcement if it wishes. At this stage, the CAA has instead been working closely with these airlines, advising the airlines of expectations in order to improve the refund experience for passengers.

Related: ATOL-protected travellers can now convert COVID-19 credit vouchers into cash refunds

Featured image by Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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