LONDON – Consumer advisory group Which? has criticized airlines in the UK over continued refund delays.

This comes following the likes of Ryanair (FR), Virgin Atlantic (VS) and TUI (BY) making commitments to the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) to speed the process up.

Under EU law, airlines have to hand out refunds within seven days of a canceled flight. Failure to do so results in enforcement action by the UK CAA.

The UK aviation body released a review into such behaviour from airlines in the Kingdom. It stated that refunds were not being paid “sufficiently” and “quickly.

On top of this, the UK CAA decided against enforcement action due to those commitments made.

Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS reg. SP-RKK on final at Naples International Airport (NAP). Photo: Marco Macca – @aviator_ita

Ryanair Slow to the Mark

It is understood that FR is on average taking 10 weeks to process refunds.

Reports have also emerged that passengers who had their flights canceled in March have not received a refund either.

The UK CAA stated it is not satisfied, especially as FR specifically said it would clear all refund requests up to the end of May by July-end.

However, back in July, the airline released information regarding such refunds. It had stated that all cash refund requests for the month of March had been cleared.

By the end of June, FR had cleared 50% of April cash refunds and by the middle of July, it had processed the remainder of April refunds. Airline CEO Eddie Wilson commented on this, stating the carrier had made significant progress.

“We are pleased to have made such significant progress over the month of June in eliminating the backlog of cash refunds due to the Covid-19 flight cancellations.”

Virgin Atlantic’s Admin Errors

Virgin Atlantic has blamed its long delays on administration errors, with some passengers waiting over 120 days for a refund.

Virgin Atlantic claimed that it had increased its refund processing team five-fold to try to clear the backlog. A spokesperson responded to why it was not able to meet the UK CAA’s requirements.

‘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.”

“We are resolving this as a priority and any customers affected will have their refund processed as soon as possible.”

Virgin has been in the news over the last couple of weeks regarding its financial situation. Earlier this month saw VS apply for Chapter 15 Bankruptcy in the United States to protect assets.

This is so it can get its restructuring plans approved by the British courts. The restructuring plan comes after the carrier landed a £1.2bn rescue deal last month.

Photo: Daniel Sander

TUI Response Non-Existent?

TUI was reprimanded by the UK CAA over the automatic issuance of flight vouchers.

Whilst this was initially standard practice, BY then made customers wait an additional 28 days on top of that for a refund.

This was far longer than what is dictated under EU law. The airline told the UK CAA that on average, customers are getting refunds processed within 14 days.

The controversy around this is that TUI is still stating on its websites that consumers must wait for a voucher.

TUI did address this, stating it was for particular customers who had booked certain itinearies.

“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.”

Does The UK CAA Need To Be Tougher?

Which? did express concerns that the UK CAA was setting a negative precedent towards refunds.

Its lack of enforcement action gave airlines like TUI, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic an opening to disregard the law.

The CAA did response to the criticism from Which?, stating it would continue to monitor performance.

“We will review any supplementary evidence provided to us by Which?.”

“While our initial review has finished, we have been clear that we will continue to monitor performance, and should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made to us, we will take further action as required.”

How to Enforce without Fines?

It remains clear that whilst airlines need to pick up the pace in processing refunds, it also needs to be enforced more significantly.

However, it could be argued that the UK CAA may not want to enforce this with fines because of the financial volatility of the industry at present.

It will be interesting to see what moves the UK CAA will make in the future and whether airlines do indeed get fined.