Airlines and travel operators are flouting the law by delaying refunds for cancelled holidays, an investigation has found.
Customers with package holidays are legally entitled to their money back within 14 days of cancellation, while airlines should refund passengers within seven days.
However, a major survey of the UK’s 20 biggest travel firms by consumer champions Which? found that none are refunding customers within these time frames.
Airlines and travel operators are flouting the law by delaying refunds for cancelled holidays, a Which? investigation has found
Millions of people have had their holidays cancelled after the Government advised against all global travel.
The unprecedented situation is thought to have left airlines and package holidays providers with a £7billion bill for refunds to British customers.
Desperate travellers are angry that their refunds are being withheld, with some left thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Many are being forced to accept vouchers or credit notes for future travel instead of their money back, but these could prove worthless if the firm collapses.
Ryanair customers who don’t want to accept a voucher are even being told to join a ‘refund queue’ and wait for their money back until the coronavirus outbreak has passed.
Which? said its advisors have received thousands of complaints from holidaymakers who say airlines are making it ‘near-impossible’ to contact them about refunds.
British Airways passengers have been unable to complete a refund form online, and are instead being told to call a customer service line. However, this line is often blocked because of the sheer number of calls.
Richard Lartey, 27, from London, who was due to fly with BA to visit his pregnant partner in Austria, said: ‘The only option for a cash refund is to call up. Instead of holding customers in a queue the telephone system would simply hang up after playing a short message.’
Travel firms are pleading with ministers to relax time limits on refund payments to prevent ‘catastrophic damage’ to their industry, which is also facing huge costs from the effort to repatriate Britons stranded abroad.
The Association of British Travel Agents has urged the Government to change the law on refunds to prevent firms going under.
Which? said its advisors have received thousands of complaints from holidaymakers who say airlines are making it ‘near-impossible’ to contact them about refunds
Chief executive Mark Tanzer said: ‘The global pandemic has put enormous financial strain on tour operators and travel agents, with businesses seeing a collapse in sales while facing immediate repatriation costs and refund demands for cancelled holidays on a scale that is unmanageable in the short term.
‘These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines and without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers within 14 days.’
As part of its research, Which? contacted 10 of the UK’s biggest holiday companies, including Tui and Jet2, and 10 of the UK’s biggest airlines, including British Airways and easyJet, to ask about their refund policies. None were found to be processing refunds within the legal time frame.
The organisation wants the Government to ‘provide clarity about how customer money will be protected in these circumstances,’ and is also urging ministers to extend the global travel ban to a definitive date.
Currently, the restriction on all but essential global travel is indefinite – causing confusion for anyone with holidays booked in the coming months.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘We have been inundated with messages from desperate travellers, some who are thousands of pounds out of pocket as a result of cancellations and have no idea if or when they’ll see their money again.
Currently, the restriction on all but essential global travel is indefinite – causing confusion for anyone with holidays booked in the coming months
‘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.
‘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.’
A BA spokesman said: ‘If a customer’s flight has been cancelled, they should call us to discuss their options. They can rebook, refund or choose to take a voucher to fly at a later date. Refunds can be requested at any point up to 12 months after the start date of the journey.’
Tui said it was ‘contacting all affected customers as fast as we can’ but admitted there was a ‘delay in this process due to the large volumes of customers impacted’.
Jet2 said staff were working ‘tirelessly to proactively contact customers’ adding the number of calls it was receiving is ‘unprecedented’ and asked customers to wait to be contacted.
Easyjet said it aimed to process claims in 28 days but warned it could take longer due to an increased volume of calls.
A Ryanair spokesman said: ‘For any cancelled flight, Ryanair is giving customers all of the options set out under EU regulations, including refunds.’