British Airways and easyJet are refusing to adhere to EU guidance and refund passengers who were issued vouchers when their flights were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Some passengers willingly accepted vouchers, believing they were helping the airlines, but others claim they weren’t told they were entitled to cash refunds, or were issued with vouchers they didn’t want.
While Ryanair says its vouchers can be refunded at any time, BA and easyJet insist that once issued, their vouchers cannot be exchanged for cash. And if passengers don’t use them by the time they expire, they’ll lose their money.
The European Commission issued guidance in May recommending that airlines automatically refund any unused vouchers 14 days after they expire. However, this is only guidance, not a legal requirement.
When flights are cancelled by an EU airline or by an airline flying from an EU airport, passengers are entitled to a cash refund under EU Regulation 261, which still applies in the UK, but during the pandemic many passengers were given vouchers instead.
BA customers claim they were misled
BA passengers have told Which? they received vouchers for cancelled flights when they thought they’d applied for refunds.
Jackie Harbridge says when she called BA to request a refund a recorded message directed her to Manage My Booking on BA’s website, but when she clicked on the Refund button, she says, she received a voucher for £2,118 for the flights to San Francisco.
She tried to call BA immediately, but struggled to get through. When she eventually got to speak to an agent she was told that since she had requested vouchers the decision could not be reversed.
‘I was completely misguided by the instruction in BA’s Manage My Booking, which specifically quoted “Refund” but turned out to be for a voucher, which is completely useless to us,’ said Jackie. She and her 83-year-old husband no longer plan to travel so they can’t make use of the vouchers.
Other customers say they received vouchers after clicking a link sent in an email from BA to inform them their flights were cancelled. The link had taken them to the BA website, where they then clicked on the Refund option.
BA denies its claims process is misleading, saying that it has issued more than 2.5 million cash refunds.
The airline says it is clear that customers must call to request cash refunds and insists that they only get a voucher if they fill out a form. It says the form clearly states it is for a voucher. BA has refused to show Which? the specific form it says Jackie filled out.
British Airways directed to withdraw voucher and refund passenger
Some passengers who have been issued with vouchers they didn’t want have been successful in getting a refund instead. Kim Norris received a cash refund of £1,099 after taking her case of an unwanted voucher to the airline’s alternative dispute resolution service, CEDR. It said that, on the balance of probabilities, she had not agreed to accept a voucher.
BA said that Kim applied for a voucher via its website, but it only provided CEDR a screenshot of the type of form it says she filled out, not her specific form. BA acknowledged that Kim had asked twice for a refund, by phone and by email. CEDR found that when BA issued the voucher, it was unlikely that Kim had voluntarily consented to accept it.
In its ruling, CEDR also pointed to the recommendation from the European Commission that if vouchers haven’t been redeemed by the end of their validity period they should be automatically reimbursed within 14 days.
Passengers unable to re-book easyJet and BA flights with vouchers
Some passengers who willingly accepted vouchers now can’t use them because flights haven’t restarted and or the route they planned to use has been dropped.
EasyJet plans to operate less than 40% of its full schedule this winter, but it will only refund vouchers – which are valid for a year – for cancelled flights from Southend, Newcastle and Stansted after deciding to close these bases. Other vouchers will only be refunded in ‘exceptional circumstances as a gesture of goodwill’, such as if a school trip could no longer go ahead, it said.
British Airways has dropped 60% of its flights up to the end of this year and pulled out of the Isle of Man. BA has extended the validity of its vouchers so they can be used any time up to April 2022.
If you can’t use the vouchers yourself, BA and easyJet say they are transferable so you can pass them on to family and friends.
What if I never asked for a voucher?
While easyJet customers can claim a refund online, BA customers have to call a helpline and passengers report multiple frustrations trying to get through, with the line frequently cutting off following a recorded message saying to call back at a less busy time. Which? called several times over a two week period and never managed to get to speak to an agent.
Jackie says that when she called the helpline to request a refund in July, a recorded message directed her to the Manage My Booking section of the BA website, which led to her receiving a voucher instead.
If you feel you were misled into accepting a voucher, or you were issued a voucher you never requested and the airline refuses to reimburse you, the CAA says you should seek redress via the approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for your airline – BA uses CEDR, easyJet uses CDRL.
If your airline isn’t a member of an ADR you should seek redress through the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints team.