Consumer platform Which? found that 20 of the UK’s largest operators (airlines and holiday booking companies such as Love Holidays and Tui) are breaking the law by failing to issue consumer refunds within a 14-day period.
While some carriers – identified by Which? as Air France and KLM – have refused to offer refunds before a 12-month period has elapsed, issuing credit notes or allowing rebooking instead, customer services departments in others are so stretched that many consumers are unable to get through to a representative for any information at all regarding their cancelled trips. Ryanair this week received a bout of criticism and angry customer complaints after it instead offered vouchers to customers that had applied for refunds.
Since then, a Ryanair spokesperson commenting on the issue said: “For any cancelled flight, Ryanair is giving customers all of the options set out under EU regulations, including refunds and re-routing.”
But there is still a lack of information available to customers, with many still waiting to receive refunds. Moreover, Which? reports that by the travel industry’s own estimates, up to £7 billion could be owed for cancelled trips. However, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the International Air Transport Association both insist that repaying these debts now would certainly bankrupt these companies.
Commenting on the issue, ABTA criticised the UK Government’s response, issuing a warning of its own to struggling consumers: “The UK Government, despite repeated requests, has failed to recognise and respond to this reality, in stark contrast to the clear sensible actions taken by the European Commission and many countries throughout Europe. We fully understand and sympathise with the frustration that many customers may be feeling. But if companies are forced into bankruptcy, it will not only destroy livelihoods but extend the refund delays far beyond the term of refund credit notes.”
Still, expecting consumers that are already facing their own financial hardships to relinquish their own hard-earned cash to airlines and holiday booking firms is a bit of a stretch to say the least. “We do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, but it cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own,” said Rory Boland, of Which? Travel. “The government must urgently set out how it will support travel firms and airlines to ensure they can meet their legal obligations to refund customers for cancelled travel plans, and avoid permanent damage to trust and confidence in the travel industry.”