Aviation watchdog ‘failing’ passengers over refund delays

Britain’s aviation watchdog has been accused of “failing” passengers over delayed refunds for flights cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumer group Which? argued the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had allowed airlines to “continue to behave terribly” with people still owed millions of pounds.

The criticism came as the regulator published its review into refunds during the COVID-19 crisis, which found several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, Ryanair and Tui initially either did not offer cash payments or had large backlogs of requests.

A Virgin Atlantic plane
Image: The regulator has said it will use enforcement powers against Virgin Atlantic if needed

The regulator said its discussions resulted in a change of approach by carriers and they were all now offering to reimburse passengers.

It also committed to continue to check on Virgin Atlantic’s performance “particularly closely and will consider the use of formal enforcement powers if necessary”.

Sir Richard Branson‘s airline had warned customers they may need to wait up to 120 days for a pay out, but has now promised to reduce the maximum wait month by month, reaching 30 days in October.

UK consumer laws state passengers are entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights within seven days.

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The CAA has the power to launch court action against aviation businesses, but the review stated this is “not well suited to swift action”.

However, Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The regulator is failing the consumers it is supposed to protect.

“The reality is that people are still owed millions of pounds in refunds, are facing financial and emotional turmoil, and continue to be fobbed off by a number of airlines who have been brazenly breaking the law for months.

“These airlines will now feel they can continue to behave terribly having faced no penalty or sanction.”

He added: “The government must use this opportunity to bring in much-needed reforms, including giving regulators greater powers to take swift and meaningful action, but consumers need assurances that these will actually be used against lawbreaking companies.”

The law states passengers are entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights within seven days
Image: The law states passengers are entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights within seven days

CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty said: “The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers.

“Although we have taken into account the serious operational challenges many airlines have faced, we have been clear that customers cannot be let down, and that airlines must pay refunds as soon as possible.

“There is still work to do.

“We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

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