Consumers’ association Which? says that several UK airlines are failing to refund passengers in the timesframes agreed with the Civil Aviation Authority, and called on the government “to give the CAA the clout to effectively hold airlines to account”.

Which? singled out Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and Tui as “breaching recent commitments to the regulator that they would speed up their refund process”.

Last month the CAA published the findings of its review of the refund policies and performance of UK carriers, stating that its action “has led to airlines making commitments to improve performance without requiring formal enforcement action”.

CAA: “all UK airlines are now paying refunds”

But Which? said that it had seen evidence that the three airlines listed above “are reneging on promises they made to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about how they would improve their refund processes, including from some passengers who have been left out of pocket since March”.

In early July Ryanair committed to processing 90 per cent of Covid-19 cash refunds by end of the month, but the comments on our piece (some from as recent as this week) suggest that many customers have yet to receive their refunds.

Ryanair to process 90 per cent of Covid-19 cash refunds by end of July

“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,” said Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel.

“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.”

Which? contacted all three carriers for the right of reply. It said that Ryanair did not respond, but Virgin Atlantic provided the following statement:

“The huge volume of refund requests we have received, combined with the constraints on our teams and systems during the pandemic, has meant that refunds have been taking longer than usual to process, and we sincerely apologise for this.

“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.

“Thanks to the progress made, we are steadily reducing the maximum processing time for each new Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays cash refund. For customers requesting a refund in August, we expect the maximum processing time to be 80 days, from the date the refund is requested. For those requesting a refund in September, we expect it to take a maximum of 60 days, and then reduce to 30 days for refunds requested in October, before returning to normal levels.

“Up until recently we have been committed to processing existing refunds within a maximum of 120 days, from the date the refund is requested, and we inform each customer when this is done by email. The timeframe begins from the date the refund is requested and acknowledged by a customer agent, not the date the flight is cancelled.

“We are aware that there are a portion of Virgin Atlantic bookings with pending refund requests which were incorrectly inputted and unfortunately now exceed 120 days for processing. This was an administration error and as soon as this was identified we urgently investigated. We are resolving this as a priority and any customers affected will have their refund processed as soon as possible.”

And Tui 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.

“We’re really sorry to any customers who may have experienced delays in receiving their refund.”