The UK Civil Aviation Authority has found airlines have upped their game when it comes to providing refunds in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The body has been reviewing the refund policies and performance of UK airlines and three of the largest international operators to the UK.
A further five international airlines were included due to the level of consumer feedback and concerns that refunds were not being paid during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the start of the process, some airlines were not paying refunds, with others facing potential backlogs of numerous months.
While recognising the coronavirus pandemic was an “unprecedented situation” for the aviation industry, the government organisation worked to protect consumer rights and to influence airlines to change their processes and practices in order to improve performance in providing refunds.
As such, the CAA now has evidence that shows that since it launched its review, and its wide-ranging engagement programme with airlines, all UK airlines are now “paying refunds”.
Call centre wait times have reduced, in some cases significantly, and customer service messaging has provided greater clarity on consumers’ rights to a refund for cancelled flights.
Commenting on the review, Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers.
“Although we have taken into account the serious operational challenges many airlines have faced, we have been clear that customers cannot be let down, and that airlines must pay refunds as soon as possible.
“There is still work to do.
“We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds.
“Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”
Consumer rights organisation Which? was, however, unimpressed with the work carried out by the CAA.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The regulator is failing the consumers it is supposed to protect.
“The reality is that people are still owed millions of pounds in refunds, are facing financial and emotional turmoil, and continue to be fobbed off by a number of airlines who have been brazenly breaking the law for months.
“These airlines will now feel they can continue to behave terribly having faced no penalty or sanction.
“It is obvious that the CAA does not have the right tools to take effective action against airlines that show disregard towards passengers and the law, but more worryingly, it’s not clear the regulator has the appetite to use them.
“The government must use this opportunity to bring in much-needed reforms, including giving regulators greater powers to take swift and meaningful action, but consumers need assurances that these will actually be used against lawbreaking companies.”
Virgin Atlantic was also singled out for its failure to offer prompt refunds, and is thus facing enforcement action.
It is the only airline threatened with action by the CAA, which has reviewed the refund waiting times of 18 major airlines.
Virgin has been making consumers wait up to 120 days for a refund and the CAA said it was “not satisfied”.
The review of all refunds was based on the investigations of the CAA, as well as information provided by consumers across email and social media, as well as through consumer bodies including the Competition & Markets Authority, the Northern Ireland Consumer Council and Which?.
The CAA investigated airlines’ policies and practices to establish whether they were placing barriers in the way of consumers requesting refunds, through unclear messaging, difficult to navigate customer services and under-resourced call centres.