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

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

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.

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.

Nutmeg offering up to 300,000 Avios with ISAs, pensions, Junior ISAs, Lifetime ISAs and General Investment Accounts
Earn Avios points when you stay with Airbnb - 6 per £1 for first time users!

Click here to join the 15,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. Peter K says:

    Rang BA this morning on the 0800 number. Didn’t press any numbers as recommended and got through in 2-3mins (under 5 mins from the start of the call). Two flight cancellations processed to get money and avois back. All completed in under 20 minutes.

  2. Ambient says:

    I finally received my Virgin Atlantic refund today – 3.5 months. However it is almost £600 short of the amount originally paid. Has anyone else had this?

    I did wonder whether the taxes and service charges get refunded separately for some reason, otherwise I guess I’m gearing up for another 3 hour wait on the phone to the call centre….

    • Travel Strong says:

      I got through immediately to virgin today (after the usual long intro messages), probably 3 mins from dialling to speaking to an agent.

      As usual virgin agent was very knowledgeable.
      Miles back in account immediately and advised cash element of the refund will now be ‘within 80 days’ rather than 120. Not ideal, but not bothered so long as it arrives.

    • I recommend calling.
      I had a mixed voucher plus cash booking and they only refunded the cash after 4 months.
      I called up and finally got through to a person after an hour (several previous attempts in the last few months had just auto hung up) who was very helpful.
      When I asked what happened to the voucher she said, “Oh, did they not tell you what to expect when you spoke to them about getting a refund?” But I pointed out that I haven’t been able to get through to anyone this whole time, they had cancelled my booking unilaterally. She was surprised and apologetic.

      In the end my voucher has been reissued with a March 2021 expiry, up from September 2020 so I’m okay with that.

  3. Just off the phone on the Newcastle number, 20 mins on hold and 6 minutes on the phone with lovely lady called Amelie who isn’t at risk of redundancy thankfully. Cancelled and Avios and companion voucher back instantly. Email confirming cancellation and refund arrived while stil on the phone. Will wait a couple of days for £100 back to Amex.Now off to cancel hotel booking.

    • Cancelling hotel was even easier, done by simply pressing cancel reservation button on website, email confirmation received as well. I have had it very easy compared to lots of people.

  4. Colin JE says:

    With BA it still seems a bit hit and miss whether you can get through on the general number. Have previously waited up to an hour to speak. Selecting 2 for changing an Avios booking means you get cut off – not good.
    I hadn’t seen the advice about not pressing anything, but discovered it myself a week or so ago. Tried yesterday several times and when I got through, was told I should ring the Exec Club number, as it was an Avios bookings. The agent (I think in Mumbai?) claimed the Silver number was up and running and he couldn’t deal with my request. Of course it wasn’t. Later, I got through on the general number after only 30 minutes wait, to a lovely lady called Surabhi who sorted out our upgrades (thanks to SeatSpy alert) within a few minutes and sorted a miss-charge from a previous upgrade when the agent didn’t notice we were using a companion voucher. Just hoping the flight now runs and Greece stays on the Green corridor.
    So keep on trying, everyone. The advice about not pressing any buttons seems to work.

  5. Lady London says:

    Pretty sure that for any day over the statutorily due 7 days an airline is supposed to refund you in, technically you could put in a claim for 8% pa statutory interest, calculated according to the number of days late you receive your cash back, additionally.

    Whilst having sympathy with the airlines in these times, some airlines have behaved particularly egregiously when they were in a position to provide prompter refunds to customers. For example I dont mean Virgin as they were not in a position to do better, but I do mean Ryanair who are sitting on a mountain of cash and took advantage.
    ,

    • Doug M says:

      I just can’t see the logic of that. Ryan where they were because well managed, Virgin were where they were because the didn’t make money in the good times. So reward Virgin with understanding and accept them hanging onto passenger money because they performed poorly?

      • Lady London says:

        I’m just pandering to our host Rob eho I believe has a soft spot for Virgin 🙂

        Seriously, I think Virgin was under no circumstances worth rescuing. I know people are very nice there and I dont want people to lose their jobs but as far as I cod tell the airline doesnt exist. There’s a brand but that’s on licence (albeit seems cheaply) from SRB. My point above is that Virgin just didnt have the cash. I think the CAA was harsh on Virgin – oerhaps because there are too many sacred cows elsewhere? (BA, AF, LH, and about 20 others?). If you dont have the money you dont. Whereas Ryanair coukd have refunded on time to everyone with loads of cash still left over and chose not to.

        • Doug M says:

          I don’t know the regulators remit to comment accurately on considering the airlines financial position to pay refunds. But taking the report at face value they explained the AF/KL/LH position,and I thought commented fairly on the general experience of myself and people I know as to the willingness and speed of refunds from various airlines.
          Clearly LH/AF/KL have received state aid way beyond what would typically be allowed, but that feels like a whole another debate which will end up being determined by your view of the EU and Brexit.

  6. Richard G says:

    I contacted TravelUp two months ago to cancel my flights for the Olympics. Chased a month ago, chased again last week. I’ve heard literally nothing, not even a confirmation that they’ve received my request.

    I checked with Lufthansa who said that TravelUp had started the refund process, so I know they got my request… but still, I have no idea where things stand. None of their phone numbers are active, so I can’t even try to wait all day to get through.

    Really not sure what to do at this point. The flights were two leg, and the Germany to Japan parts were cancelled… so I’m assuming I could go with travel insurance to claim? Or should I be claiming via my credit card?

    Any advice from the experienced travellers here would be appreciated!

    • Lady London says:

      Your best bet is to catch up on the extensive info on Travelup over on flyertalk. Make yourself a nice cup of tea before you start and settle in for a long session.

  7. The Savage Squirrel says:

    Don’t get many mentions here (fair enough given no loyalty scheme though probably ‘cos they’re not in London too) and they’re not perfect, but this does back up my belief that Jet2 is in many ways the best run UK airline. They offer a simple low-cost product just as you’d expect that model to work, but without going for Ryanair F-U levels of customer service and trying to screw you over.

    • Jet2 doesn’t usually have low prices though. But I agree, they are a good airline with very good crew. Ryanair is the pits in comparison.

    • Harry T says:

      Haven’t seen many good deals on flights with them but they are a class act and I’d be happy to give them my money in the future.

    • Lady London says:

      You missed the best bit. They are a regional airline. They even fly from the North of England. From several locations, in fact 🙂

  8. Julene says:

    Please add La Compagnie to your list of airlines that have promised refunds within 7 days but I’m now on the fifth month of waiting. When I wrote to inquire about the status of the refund, they said it may take up to 6 months. That timeline is unacceptable but my hands are tied because they fight any attempt to get a credit card charge back.

    • Take it up with the CAA, we’re just reporting on their review

    • Lady London says:

      section 75 requesr from your credit card as they are jointly liable with airlinw. insist on s75 processing if chargeback too slow/ not working. If cardco does not do so promptly threaten them with a referral if ypur complaint to the FOS ie the Ombudsman.

      Section 75 info on MSE

  9. Stuart says:

    Good or bad that Malaysia Airlines was included in the report, the only airline listed from the Far East (no SQ, CX, TG, VN, CX, MU, KE, NH etc.). Two days ago MH cancelled my Dec ’20 and Jan ’21 LHR-KUL-LHR flights. Called MH once they emailed me of the cancellations (and the flights MH switched me to – but which are not suitable for me) and the agent started the full refund process. I was told to expect a long wait time (how long is long?).

    • For me its been about 140 days with Malaysia Airlines. Refund agreed on the 13th March for travel on the 15th March and its just hit my amex card yesterday. Non refundable ticket but due to local government restrictions just coming into place at the time MH agreed to full refund. They kept telling me different refund time frames and had to push for comformation in writing about the agreed refund, needed this as I was about to go charge back route, put a complaint in with Mh and now have the money back, but no reply as yet to the complaint.

  10. To my mind, many airlines have got away with blaming the volume of cancelled flights and affected customers. Clearly there are some complicated bookings that have needed a part cancellation or have a travel agent involved but a huge amount are a straight cancellation & refund.

    This surely could be an automated process for the vast majority of cases where the customer has asked for their money back (after all, the airline have the card number to refund to) but clearly cash management has been more of a priority for airlines. Why airlines were not challenged more on this is beyond me, I know no-one wants to admit their company has not got the cash to refund customers but don’t blame processing time.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.