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Who is worst for airline refunds? Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Ryanair, easyJet top the CAA’s list

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Which is the best and worst UK airline for giving refunds?  The CAA has just published its review into airline refund practises during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can see the full document here.

Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Ryanair and easyJet are all on the Civil Aviation Authority’s naughty list when it comes to refunding passengers on cancelled flights in a timely manner.

The review included 18 airlines in total, including all UK based operators.  The three international airlines with the largest UK operations and five other airlines with a high volume of complaints were also included.  Each review includes detailed feedback for each airline, as well as any changes and commitments the airline has made to the CAA to improve its performance.

What are your refund rights under the law?

Under EC261, the European air passenger rights law, airlines are obliged to offer a full cash refund in the event of a flight cancellation.  EC261 also states that refunds should be processed within seven days.

However, the CAA has taken a slightly more lenient stance given the unprecedented levels of flight cancellations. Given these mitigating circumstances, it says:

“airlines should make refunds promptly and over time work towards getting as close to the 7 days as possible.”

Airlines are supposed to be transparent in their obligations and provide clear information regarding passenger rights.  The CAA has also been investigating airlines to make sure they aren’t hoodwinking consumers. According to the CAA, airlines ought to “provide clear information about the option of a cash refund or provide information about how to request a refund”.

The CAA has also investigated instances where airlines – such as British Airways – have made it more difficult for customers to request refunds by removing the functionality from their website or forcing customers into long telephone queues.

Virgin Atlantic poor for refunds say CAA

Naughty or nice?

Whilst the CAA review didn’t provide refund timelines for all companies, some airlines were performing significantly worse than others.  Here are the airlines that will be getting coal for Christmas:

easyJet – 90 days
Emirates – 90 days
Ryanair – 70 days
Virgin Atlantic – up to 120 days

Virgin Atlantic is obviously the biggest outlier here, although this was presumably due to the fact that it didn’t have enough cash on hand at the start of the pandemic to match its refund liabilities. We can only hope it improves now that the airline has announced a £1.2 billion rescue plan.

Virgin Atlantic is the only airline on the list that has been threatened with the “use of formal enforcement powers if necessary” and will be monitored closely by the CAA going forward.

CAA refund complaints American Airlines

The ‘nice’ list is more surprising, however. Only three airlines were found to be paying refunds out promptly:

American Airlines
United Airlines
Jet2

British Airways is notably missing from the top or bottom and was actually rated average when it came to processing refunds. Most people received their money back within 30 days.

The CAA did have something to say about British Airways removing the refund request form from its website and forcing people to phone in: “the CAA has also been unable to speak to an agent to discuss refunds, with its calls terminated following a recorded message.” However, the review states that British Airways has now improved its customer helpline.

The full report, airline by airline

Below is the full text from the CAA’s findings on all eighteen airlines surveyed.  The division into positive and negative lists was made by us and not by the CAA.

Generally positive findings:

Aer Lingus – “Through our review we have identified that, although Aer Lingus has had a sizeable backlog of refund requests to process, the airline has been processing these requests relatively quickly, with refund processing timescales being between around 30 to 40 days. The airline has committed to further reduce refund processing times and to address the remaining backlog through the introduction of further automation in its refund process, which it intends to implement from August. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline in processing refunds and has communicated its expectations to Aer Lingus that processing times should be further reduced.”

American Airlines – “American Airlines is one of only three airlines that our review has identified as having been consistently processing cash refunds quickly and as having only a small backlog of refund requests.”

British Airways – “The information reported to us by British Airways indicates that the airline has had a relatively small backlog of refund requests and that it has processed refunds relatively quickly, with refund processing timescales being around 30 days or less. However, passenger complaints indicate that the airline’s customers have experienced difficulties in contacting the airline to notify it of their request for a refund. In its own sample calls to the airline, the CAA has also been unable to speak to an agent to discuss refunds, with its calls terminated following a recorded message. British Airways has now made some changes to its customer helpline to ensure that calls are no longer terminated after a recorded message. We will continue to monitor whether this change provides improvements for passengers and how long it takes for passengers to get through to an agent.”

Eastern Airways – “Due to the nature of the booking profile of Eastern Airways’ customers, relatively few passengers were affected by the airline’s cancellations as compared to the other airlines in the review. As such, the airline has had a relatively small backlog and has been processing refunds relatively quickly, typically within 30 days of the passenger requesting a refund. The airline’s website is also clear that passengers on cancelled flights are entitled to a refund and how to claim it. However, the CAA’s review found that, due to an issue with its systems, Eastern Airways had not been notifying passengers on cancelled flights directly of their right to a refund. This issue was dealt with by the airline in early June and passengers on cancelled flights are now receiving communication from the airline is directing them to its website for requesting a cash refund.”

Jet2 – “Jet2 is one of only three airlines that our review has identified as having been consistently processing cash refunds quickly and as having only a small backlog of refund requests.”

United Airlines – “United Airlines is one of only three airlines that our review has identified as having been consistently processing cash refunds quickly and as having only a small backlog of refund requests.”

Generally negative findings:

Air Canada – “Air Canada is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. The airline has confirmed to the CAA that it is contacting passengers on cancelled flights to inform them of the option for a cash refund. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline to ensure that it is not systematically denying passengers on cancelled flights their right to a refund.”

Air Transat – “Air Transat is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. The airline has confirmed to the CAA that it is contacting passengers on cancelled flights inform them of the option for a cash refund. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline to ensure that it is not systematically denying passengers on cancelled flights their right to a refund.”

easyjet refunds caa report

easyJet – “easyJet is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. In relation to refund processing timescales, at least initially the airline was taking up to 90 days to process refund requests. Although the airline was able to improve its performance throughout May and June, the CAA was not satisfied and requested that easyJet provide the CAA with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. easyJet has now confirmed to us that, as a result of investing further in the number of staff available to process refund claims, and byincreasing the number of staff in its call centres and extending their opening hours, it is now able to process refund requests in less than 30 days from the request being made by the passenger. easyJet has confirmed also that it expects its current backlog to be processed by early August.”

Emirates – “Emirates is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. In relation to refund processing timescales, at least initially the airline was taking up to 90 days to process refund requests, although the airline was subsequently able to improve its performance to around 60 days. However, the CAA was not satisfied with this level of performance and requested that Emirates provide it with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. Emirates has now confirmed to us that, as a result of investing further in the number of staff available to process refund claims, it is now able to process refund requests in, on average, 40 days or less from the request being made by the passenger, with passengers having to wait a maximum of 50 days. Emirates expects to reduce the timeframe to 30 days by September. It also confirmed that is has processed 100% of claims received in March and April and 95% of those received in May.”

Etihad – “Etihad is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. The airline has confirmed to the CAA that it is contacting passengers on cancelled flights to inform them of the option for a cash refund. It has also made some improvements to its cancellation notification to provide a direct link to the website where passengers can find information about refunds. It has also taken steps to improve the performance of its call centre.”

Loganair – “Loganair is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. In relation to refund processing timescales, at least initially the airline was taking up to 90 days to process refund requests, although the airline was working to improve its performance the majority of claims are still taking between 60-90 days. The CAA was not satisfied with this level of performance and requested that Loganair provide it with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. Loganair noted that restrictions in Scotland have been more stringent than in England and have lasted for longer, impacting on its ability to get staff back into the office. However, it has confirmed that it has taken further steps to improve processing times and has committed to progressively reducing its processing time to less than 30 days. It expects to process all eligible claims made in April by 4 August, all claims made in May by 24 August, all claims made in June by 31 August and all claims made in July by 6 September. It is writing periodically to all passengers who have made claims to inform them of their expected processing timescales.”

Malaysia Airlines – “Malaysia Airlines is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. At the request of the CAA, the airline has also taken a number of steps, including amendments to its website and its online refund form, to make it clearer to passengers on cancelled flights that they have the option of a refund and the steps they need to take to claim it. We have requested in addition that the airline amends the notification that it sends to passengers on cancelled flights to more clearly signpost passengers to the relevant page on its website. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline to ensure that it is not systematically denying passengers on cancelled flights their right to a refund.”

Ryanair – “Ryanair is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. In relation to refund processing timescales, at least initially the airline was taking 10 weeks or even longer to process refund requests. The CAA was not satisfied with this level of performance and requested that Ryanair provide it with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. On 3 July, Ryanair published a set of commitments on its website related to the timescales for processing cash refunds. Ryanair confirmed that 90% of its backlog would be cleared by the end of July with all refund claims made in April to be processed by 15 July and most of the claims made in May by the end of July.”

TUI – “TUI is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. For passengers on cancelled flights, TUI’s approach was to automatically issue a credit note for the value of the flight, indicating that the passenger would have to wait 28 days from receiving the credit note before they could claim a cash refund, which would then take a further 28 days to be processed. The CAA was not satisfied with this level of performance and requested that TUI provide it with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. TUI has now confirmed to us that, as a result of investing further in the number of staff available to process refund claims, it is able to eliminate the step in its process of automatically issuing a credit voucher, and is instead automatically commencing the cash refund process once it notifies passengers of the cancellation of their flight. In relation to refund processing timescales, TUI has confirmed that, on average, cash refunds will be processed within 14 days.”

Turkish Airlines – “Turkish Airlines is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. At the request of the CAA, the airline has also taken a number of steps, including amendments to its website, its online refund form, and the notification that it sends to passengers on cancelled flights, to make it clearer to passengers that they have the option of a refund and the steps they need to take to claim it. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline to ensure that it is not systematically denying passengers on cancelled flights their right to a refund.”

Virgin Atlantic – “Virgin Atlantic is one of the airlines that our review identified as not processing refund requests sufficiently quickly and as having a sizeable backlog of refund requests. In relation to refund processing timescales, at least initially the airline was taking up to 60 days to process refund requests. However, the airline’s performance became significantly worse and it provided a commitment to consumers that the maximum wait would be 120 days. The CAA was not satisfied with this level of performance and requested that Virgin Atlantic provide it with commitments to reduce the time taken to process refunds, such that they are processed in a reasonable timeframe and one which is aimed at the 7 day period set out in Regulation EC261/2004. Virgin Atlantic has committed to reducing the maximum time taken to process a refund and it expects to process all claims made in August within 80 days, all claims made in September within 60 days and all claims made in October within 30 days. We recognise that even with these improvements to processing times it still results in a lengthy wait for consumers. However, we consider that the improvement in the processing time is a step forward and provides greater clarity for consumers. We will continue to work with Virgin Atlantic and push them for further improvements to the timescales. Given the extended timescales even in September and October, we will be monitoring Virgin’s performance particularly closely and will consider the use of formal enforcement powers if necessary.”

Westjet – “Westjet is one of the airlines that, based on passenger complaints, the CAA had identified as not paying cash refunds. In its response to the enquiries that we have made as part of our review, the airline has confirmed that it is paying cash refunds as required. The airline has confirmed to the CAA that it is contacting passengers on cancelled flights to inform them of the option for a cash refund and to advise them on how to claim it. The CAA will continue to monitor the performance of the airline to ensure that it is not systematically denying passengers on cancelled flights their right to a refund.”

You can read the original report here (PDF) if you want to find out more.

Comments (94)

  • Andy says:

    Applied for 2 refunds from AA 3 days ago and refund completed yesterday

  • King says:

    Been waiting since 3 April for Emirates to refund our Business Class flight cancelled by them when in Australia, told our travel agent that they will pay out a refund but Travel agent will not pay out to us until they get paid , which is disgraceful as we paid for this trip 12 months ago, never fly with Emirates again!

  • Wayne says:

    Hi

    Today BA announced the cancellation of my flights from Gatwick to Tenerife in September (booked as part of a package including hotel). Booked on my credit card.

    I called and asked for my options, I decided to move the flights from Gatwick to Heathrow (on the same day as the original booking).

    I asked what would happen if BA cancelled the flights again or there is a government lockdown. The BA Rep said I would only be entitled to a voucher if this were to happen.

    Please can anyone clarify this.

    Thanks.

    • Rob says:

      Rubbish. If it is cancelled you get a refund. If it goes but you choose not to travel, you don’t but can get a voucher.

  • Al NIcol says:

    My flight with Virgin was on the 31st March. Still waiting for the £600 refund (admittedly only since my claim in mid May). Glad I could help out with an interest free loan during these troubled times.

    Air India ignored my request for a refund entirely. Luckily my UK bank (Starling) helped me out with a debit card charge-back. Air India had 45 days to respond to my complaint, and they refunded my money on day 43.

  • MR HENRY M CHEYNE says:

    We’re sorry if these changes don’t suit your travel plans. Please see the three options that are available:

    1. Switch to an alternative easyJet flight* without having to pay a change fee. Our schedule of flights is available to book until 30 Sept 2021 giving you plenty of opportunities to fly with us at a later date.

    You can make the change directly by logging into Manage bookings. We do ask you to make the change at least 14 days before your departure date.

    2. Claim a voucher for the full value of your flight.

    We recognise that you may feel unsure about committing to a specific flight now, so you can request a voucher for the full value of your flight, which is valid for 12 months from the date of issue, to use when you are ready to fly.

    To request a voucher please contact our customer service team on 0330 365 5000.

    3. If neither of these options work for you, then please contact our customer service team on 0330 365 5000

    For our full terms and conditions please visit easyJet.com.

    I have talked to customer services and they are refusing to refund my money.