Nearly eight in ten Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic passengers not satisfied with customer service when seeking refunds

Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic have been rated the worst of the UK’s major airlines in Which?’s new refund satisfaction survey, both receiving abysmally low scores for making customers wait months for their money back and offering poor customer service throughout the process.

Both airlines were given a customer satisfaction score of just 13 per cent when respondents were asked to rate the customer service they received when applying for a refund from their airline.

Rather than running its annual airlines survey, Which? has focused on the dominant issue of a year that saw millions of flights grounded by the coronavirus pandemic – customer experiences of seeking a refund from their carrier after having a flight cancelled.

Which? asked people about their experiences of getting their money back from the UK’s six major airlines after having a flight cancelled last year, asking how satisfied people were with their refund offer, and how satisfied they were with the customer service they received.

Eight in 10 (79%) Ryanair passengers surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the customer service they received while trying to get a refund, while around eight in 10 (84%) Virgin Atlantic passengers said they were dissatisfied. Just 13 per cent of passengers for both airlines in the survey said they were satisfied with the customer service they received while seeking their refund.

One in four (26%) Ryanair passengers were satisfied with their refund offer, suggesting some people were happy with accepting a voucher or waiting a bit longer to get their money back.

However, only one in six (16%) Virgin Atlantic passengers said the same. Virgin Atlantic primarily offers long-haul flights, so its initial policy of automatically issuing credit notes rather than cash refunds for flights costing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, was not well received by customers in the survey.

Additionally, a third of respondents who had a flight cancelled by the two airlines (Ryanair 32%; Virgin Atlantic 31%) told Which? they waited more than three months for their refund. None of the Ryanair passengers surveyed received their refund within the legal time frame of seven days after the cancellation.

Many Ryanair customers were left waiting months for their money back as they spent hours of their time trying to contact the airline, while Virgin Atlantic set itself an unambitious target of refunding its passengers within 120 days of their flight being cancelled – a target it failed to meet, in some cases.

At the other end of the table – proving that even with the challenges of the pandemic, providing good service was not impossible – was Jet2, with a satisfaction score of 76 per cent. Eight in 10 passengers (83%) told Which? they received their refund within 28 days, with one in three (34%) saying they received it within the legal time frame of seven days. None reported waiting more than three months.

While the airline did not always proactively inform customers of their right to a cash refund, instead encouraging them to rebook for another date, customers told us it processed refunds without quibbling when they were requested. Jet2 was also the only airline in the survey to be named a Which? Recommended Provider.

Tui received the second highest satisfaction score, at 57 per cent, followed by British Airways with 50 per cent.

Tui’s approach at the beginning of the pandemic was poor. Customers were automatically issued with credit notes and forced to call an overwhelmed phone line if they wanted to request a refund. But its performance improved after May when it introduced its online refund request form and began offering cash refunds as an option.

Half of British Airways passengers in the survey told Which? they received their refund within seven days, which was better than any other airline in the survey, while eight in 10 (79%) were refunded within 28 days. However, passengers were also instructed to call an extremely busy phone line to request their refund after BA removed its online refund request form from its website. The service often played an automated message to customers before simply hanging up on them.

Easyjet was given a score of 45 per cent, after customers faced lengthy wait times on the phone to try and speak to someone about a refund. Only a third of customers (32%) were refunded within 28 days, with even fewer (4%) receiving their money back within seven days.

Which? recently revealed that BA is continuing to refuse refunds for passengers who would have to break the law to take flights that are not cancelled during the UK’s current lockdown, while Ryanair’s website suggests passengers booked onto flights that are still running will not be eligible for a refund. This is despite the Competition and Markets Authority recently stepping in to investigate this practice.

The CMA is investigating whether airlines have broken consumer law by failing to offer cash refunds for flights people could not lawfully take due to lockdown laws. It comes following a lack of action from the Civil Aviation Authority, the sector regulator.

As the UK faces potentially being in the current lockdown for several months, airlines must ensure that no passengers are left waiting beyond the legal time frame to get their money back if they have a flight cancelled.

Which? is also calling on both the CMA and the CAA to act swiftly in response to any airlines found to be giving passengers the run-around on refunds for cancellations brought on by the lockdown, to prevent a crisis on the same scale as last year from happening again.

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:

“These findings will come as no surprise to the millions of people left chasing their airline for their money back after suffering a flight cancellation last year. Billions of pounds were illegally withheld from customers, and to add insult to injury, these results demonstrate that many of these customers had to also put up with abysmal customer service through the process.

“As the UK approaches the anniversary of the first nationwide lockdown, it’s vital that lessons are learned from the previous handling of refunds and cancellations. Airlines cannot be allowed to continue to behave in this way, so the CMA and CAA must be ready to act if any are found to still be breaking the law on refunds.”

Notes to editors:

Rights of reply:

Ryanair said: “All Ryanair passengers who have requested a refund since our offices reopened on 1 June have now received these refunds. There is no backlog of refunds.”

Virgin Atlantic apologised for the issues it had, and thanked customers for their patience. A spokesperson said: “Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers, whether that’s to amend, rebook or cancel plans. As planned, we completed the backlog of refunds in November and returned to processing refunds within normal timeframes. Since 1 March 2020, we’ve processed c.£550m worth of cash refunds to Virgin Atlantic customers, comprising c.245,000 refund claims. As soon as we identified any refunds over 120 days, they were escalated for review and immediate payment. These incidences were a very small proportion of the thousands of refunds successfully provided within the committed timeframe.”

Tui apologised to customers for the issues faced and said: “Since earlier this summer, customers have been automatically refunded so they don’t need to call us or request this.”

British Airways said: “During these difficult and unprecedented times we have been doing everything we can to help our customers and our teams continue to work around the clock to provide refunds as quickly as possible. We have issued more than 2.9m customers with cash refunds and 1.9m with vouchers since last March. We value the loyalty of our customers and appreciate their patience.”

EasyJet said: “We have invested in extra resources in our call centre in order to reduce any waiting times and to assist customers as quickly as possible.”

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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