Ryanair and British Airways have finished at the bottom of Which?’s annual survey of short-haul airlines, with both companies panned for providing poor customer service to those with disrupted flights during the pandemic.
The consumer champion surveyed more than 1,300 passengers for their experiences of flying with short-haul airlines in areas such as boarding, cabin cleanliness, customer service and value for money since November 2019.
In a second part of the survey, Which? asked more than 1,100 passengers whose flights were disrupted how satisfied they were with how their airline handled the issue. The actions of some airlines – delaying or denying refunds for flights cancelled, or which passengers could not take, due to Covid – were reflected in these results.
Budget carrier Ryanair received an overall customer score of 55 per cent and a lamentable 47 per cent in the refund satisfaction category, with one in five customers telling Which? it took them more than a month to get a refund.
One customer said: “Ryanair is the most awkward airline to deal with that I have ever come across. It seems to be proud of being difficult.”
Themes that have appeared time and again – making Ryanair a fixture in the bottom three of Which?’s airline survey for more than a decade – were also evident, with another passenger adding: “Total lack of transparency about costs, and treating passengers like cattle to be squeezed for the last penny.”
When asked, ‘Is there an airline you would never fly with?’, three-quarters (74%) named Ryanair. Ryanair scored no better than two stars for all the measures in the main customer satisfaction survey – apart from value for money, where it scored three stars.
BA was second from bottom with a customer score of 63 per cent – just behind TUI Airways, but with a much lower refund satisfaction score.
Passengers reported spending hours on hold only to be hung up on, or passed endlessly between different departments. This disappointing customer service, along with two-star ratings for food and drink, seat comfort and value for money, led one passenger to describe BA as ‘a budget style airline at premium prices’. However, BA’s cabins ranked as joint cleanest alongside KLM and Jet2.
Jet2 was top of the table and earned a Which? Recommended Provider endorsement. Its record on delivering refunds was the best: more than eight in 10 (84%) respondents were satisfied with the outcome when their flight was disrupted because of Covid, and throughout the pandemic, most passengers have received a resolution in two weeks.
Nine in 10 Jet2 customers told Which? they got a full refund, rather than having a voucher foisted upon them. Its Covid flexibility policy is one of the best, allowing customers to make fee-free changes for most pandemic-related disruption, including lockdowns, quarantines and changing FCDO advice. One Which? survey respondent said: “The pandemic has seen Jet2 shine. Its standard of customer care exceeds that of any other low-cost airline.”
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Ryanair’s consistently terrible customer service has made it a fixture among the worst performers in our surveys for many years – but the airline plumbed new depths with its handling of Covid refunds. BA’s reputation also deservedly took a battering when it took a hard line on refunds for passengers who could not travel because they followed government health guidance.
“Many passengers will not forget how they were treated by companies during the pandemic. Covid could still cause disruption to international travel, so we would advise travellers to book with operators that have flexible booking policies and a record of treating their customers fairly.”
Notes to editors:
In October 2021, Which? surveyed more than 1,300 passengers for their experiences of flying with six short-haul airlines since November 2019 and 1,124 people who suffered a disrupted flight since March 2020 gave their views to us.
Right of replies
British Airways said: “We’re proud that we were the first UK airline to offer customers the flexibility to amend their plans at the beginning of the pandemic, by providing vouchers that they can use up to September 2023.
“If we cancel a flight we always contact customers to offer a range of options including a full refund. We’ve issued more than 4.2 million refunds and have dealt with more than 3.3 million voucher requests to date.
“However, we know we can do better and we’re working hard behind the scenes, upgrading our phone systems and recruiting more people to deliver a better and faster customer experience that we know our customers deserve.
“We never take our customers’ loyalty for granted and appreciate their patience as our teams work around the clock to support them.”
Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.
Millions of passengers were left unable to claim a refund for flights they could not take during the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the worst offenders were British Airways and Ryanair, and in June 2021 the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into the two airlines’ practices, but it was dropped four months later. The episode exposed weak consumer protections and lack of an effective aviation ombudsman.
On Monday (January 31) the government announced a consultation on increasing access to faster and cheaper dispute resolution schemes for customers, and proposing to make it mandatory for airlines to be part of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme – currently they can opt out, as Ryanair did for three years, to the detriment of passengers. Which? has been the leading consumer voice on these issues for the last two years.
Airlines’ flexible booking policies
EasyJet’s ‘Protection Promise’ means those impacted by a travel ban or hotel quarantine can claim a refund even if flights still operate. And until 31 March, there’s no change fee if you amend a flight, for any reason, up to two hours before take-off.
BA’s flexible policy on new bookings is a redeeming feature, letting customers rebook, or cancel and request a voucher for any reason right up until check-in. This policy applies to flight bookings up to 31 August 2022.
Jet2’s Covid flexibility policy lets passengers make fee-free changes for most pandemic-related disruption, including lockdowns, quarantines and changing FCDO advice.
Tips for safely booking flights and holidays
Holidaymakers can guarantee their money by booking a package, as these come with stronger financial protections.
Which? also recommends booking flights with accommodation providers and airlines with flexible policies so you can rebook your accommodation or flight if necessary without paying an admin fee.
It’s advisable to book with a credit card to give yourself further protection and to take out holiday cover with an insurer with a strong travel insurance policy.
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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