Consumer organisation Which? has urged the Civil Aviation Authority to do more to force airlines to offer timely refunds for cancelled flights in the wake the coronavirus outbreak.
The Competition & Markets Authority yesterday said it would consider legal action against airlines and travel agents who failed to follow the law.
The Civil Aviation Authority welcomed the decision.
Richard Stephenson, director of communications at the CAA, said: “Consumers are entitled to receive a refund for their cancelled flights, despite the challenges the industry is currently facing.
“We consider it is reasonable for airlines to offer vouchers, however it is important that consumers are given a clear option to request a cash refund without unnecessary barriers.
“We expect airlines to provide refunds for cancelled flights as soon as practically possible in the current circumstances, where they are sought by customers.”
He added: “We have published guidance and advice for both industry and consumers, and we continue to engage with airlines on this important issue.
“We do not expect airlines to systematically deny consumers their right to a refund and we will take the necessary steps to ensure that this right is protected.”
However, Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, has called for a tougher stance.
“While the CAA is right to remind airlines of their legal obligations to refund passengers for cancelled flights, incidents of carriers openly breaking the law are mounting up and people are being left thousands of pounds out of pocket as a result – so it is clear that more needs to be done to hold airlines to account,” he explained.
“Customers of many airlines are being told to either accept a voucher or wait months for their money to be returned to them.
“Asking airlines to issue refunds ‘as soon as practically possible’ does nothing to remedy this, and risks giving too much leeway to those airlines which have a legal obligation to refund within seven days.
“The regulator must stand up for passengers’ rights and come down strongly on airlines that are systematically denying refunds for cancelled flights, and the government must urgently intervene with support for the industry, so carriers can comply with the law and refund consumers without fear of going bust.”