Ryanair has made false claims over its record for paying out refunds for flights cancelled as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Which? research has revealed.
The consumer champion found Ryanair’s claim that every passenger who booked with the airline has been refunded up to the end of July to be untrue – with some customers still out of pocket.
The airline’s chief executive Michael O’Leary said earlier this month: “We have refunded everybody that’s requested a refund, others have taken advantage of vouchers or have changed free…every customer who has requested a cash refund from Ryanair has now received it.” He said a “tiny number” of cash refunds still outstanding were for customers who had booked through online travel agents or “screen scraper” websites.
But Which? has heard from Ryanair customers who are still waiting for refunds they requested for trips cancelled up to six months ago. Frustratingly, those who requested refunds have received vouchers instead.
In response, Ryanair told Which? that it automatically issued vouchers to customers and that these vouchers then enabled customers to claim cash refunds. There is no reason to believe Mr O’Leary is aware of these customers.
Under EU law, which still applies in the UK, airlines must refund passengers within seven days of cancelling a flight from any EU airport once the passenger requests the refund. Vouchers should not be automatically issued. Airlines instead are required to obtain the signed consent of passengers agreeing to accept a voucher.
By sending vouchers in the first instance, even after customers have requested a refund, Ryanair is placing the burden on its customers to apply twice for the refunds to which they are entitled.
In July, Which? analysed more than 12,000 complaints about flight refunds from passengers and found that more than four in 10 were about Ryanair.
Which? believes the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be making it clear to airlines that they must follow the law on vouchers and refunds. Unlike some other regulators, the CAA itself cannot fine an airline directly. By contrast in 2019, the Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates financial services, issued a total of £392 million in fines.
As a first step towards restoring long-term trust, the government must urgently review the CAA’s powers and seek to extend them at the earliest opportunity, to ensure passengers have an aviation regulator with the powers to stand up for their rights.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:
“We have had more complaints about Ryanair’s handling of refunds than any other airline, with some passengers still struggling to get their money up to six months after their flights were cancelled.
“Airlines are facing a serious financial crisis but they are also facing a crisis of trust. Claiming all passengers who have requested a refund have received it when that’s not true is hardly going to help matters. Ryanair now risks adding insult to injury by refusing to refund passengers who can not fly this month because of the latest lockdown.
“Major airlines have acted shamefully and without fear of consequences during this pandemic – the government must urgently review the CAA’s powers as part of its aviation recovery plan, to ensure airlines do not feel empowered to brazenly break consumer law again in the future.”
Warren applied to Ryanair for a cash refund at the end of March after his flights to Tenerife in April were cancelled. He initially received an email from Ryanair saying that his refund was being processed, but in May they sent him a voucher for the £2,028.80 cost of the flights, with no instructions on how to exchange this for cash. Ryanair admits that Warren didn’t receive a link to reject the vouchers. It claims it never received the two emails he sent Ryanair asking where his cash refund was. Only after Which? challenged Ryanair, did it arrange for Warren to receive the refund he was entitled to.
Robert was also emailed a voucher after he had applied via the airline’s website for a refund for flights to France that were cancelled in May. His email from Ryanair in June included a link to reject the voucher, which he says he did, but he heard nothing more until Which? raised his case with Ryanair. Ryanair told Which? that Robert never rejected the voucher, so it didn’t refund him. After we approached Ryanair about Robert’s refund of almost £500, it has since been paid.
When Matt’s flights to Faro were cancelled, he was emailed vouchers in May. He says it wasn’t until September that he received another email from Ryanair with an option to convert the vouchers to cash – which he didn’t see until 29 October – but he was then told that he’d have to wait up to three weeks for his refund. A Ryanair spokesperson confirmed his booking was due to be refunded “within 14 working days”. Regulation EU261 says airlines should refund within seven days. He has since received his refund within this period.
Notes to eds
No UK airlines have been fined for breaking consumer law in 17 years: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/no-uk-airlines-have-been-fined-for-breaking-consumer-law-in-17-years/
Airlines failing on commitments to regulator on time taken to process refunds: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/airlines-failing-on-commitments-to-regulator-about-time-taken-to-process-refunds/
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