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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 (93)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • DanLondon says:

    Credit where credit is due (excuse the pun), in my case (which was at the height of the pandemic) I got through to BA reasonably easily. The lady I spoke to was friendly, polite and I received my refund within a few days. I was very impressed.

    Swiss on the other hand…

  • Kevin Brunton says:

    SAS has been by far the worst for me and others I know. Four months and counting. Easyjet refunded some Cyprus flights that I’d booked for family members within a month of the cancellation notification. BA were extremely fast with some Avios flights (called the Swedish number from Sweden, less than 5 minutes on hold). The Avios were back in the account before the phone call was over. The fees were back on the credit card within 2-3 working days. One other good experience related to travel. Explained to Center Parcs in the UK that we couldn’t make it because of quarantine rules and they refunded in less than a week.

  • Goonface says:

    85 days have passed and I’m still waiting on Ryanair to refund, since they cancelled my flights. I got an email stating my refund would take 5-7 working days, well over 2 weeks ago.

    I wonder where this 70 day figure came from?!

    BA refund – within 7 working days of them cancelling my flights and I didn’t even have to jump through deliberate hoops to get it. Top job!

  • JMac says:

    Wonder if they asked Loganair to define a cancellation. Changing a flight on a booking from one flight number to another that leave 9 hours earlier (on a 1 hour flight) is a reasonable alternative and not eligible for a refund apparently…

    • Lady London says:

      UA decided passengers moved to other flights 12 hours away had not been cancelled but the US DoT sorted them out.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    I Got my last refund the day after i rung BA (Avios same day tax’s the day after)
    Well done BA Credit were credits due
    first two a little longer (two weeks) can’t complain
    Made me cash n Avois rich has no Travel plans for this year now, unless a trip to Blackburn visit 4 Kids & Grand Kids at Christmas but i doubt it with whats happening Blackburn
    We would normally go 4/5 times a year but not at all since last Christmas/New Year
    Well ok Christmas was until 31st Jan lol,but they haven’t been down here to Bognor either

  • Harry T says:

    I had a positive experience with Jet2. BA have refunded quickly recently. Lufthansa are awful.

    • Will says:

      Yes, I’m surprised Lufthansa have avoided censure. They’re appalling and theirs is the only refund I am still waiting for now. BA, Easyjet, SAS and KLM were all pretty good.

      • ChrisC says:

        They weren’t included in the review – see the actual CAA report for the reasons,

  • Natalie says:

    Yesterday I bagged my last refund from VAA. I cancelled an LGW to MBJ in UC in March. I had already done a snatch back via Amex but it was still nice to see the actual refund land.

  • Sav says:

    US Friends were due to fly BA to the UK the day after POTUS closed down air travel and a week before we locked down – so BA didn’t cancel the flight they did so, as otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to fly home (and as it could have turned out would have been stranded in the UK as we locked down).

    Can anyone advise if they can use our small claims court system to try and get a refund on their additional baggage and seat reservation costs please?

    • Lady London says:

      not if passenger cancels.

    • Harry T says:

      They won’t be entitled to anything, as they chose to cancel. Their only recourse might be travel insurance but I’d doubt they would cover for voluntary cancellation when travel to the UK wasn’t banned.

      • Lyn says:

        Although the US advised against foreign travel at about that time as well, so if they live in the US perhaps the extra fees might be covered by insurance after all?

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