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27 Mar 2020

Airlines failing to refund coronavirus cancellations

British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair fail to provide a simple way to get money back, as passengers resort to claiming on debit or credit cards

Passengers of the major airlines are still struggling to obtain refunds for cancelled flights, despite being entitled to them by law.

With the vast majority of flights to and from the UK now having been cancelled, millions of passengers on Ryanair, easyJet, British Airways and other airlines are entitled to a full refund. They don't have to accept a voucher or a change of date, if they don't want to.

Yet Which? has been inundated with passengers who say it is almost impossible to claim because forms aren't available online, don't work or it's impossible to contact customer service.Some passengers have even resorted to asking their bank card provider to take action against the airlines.

Meanwhile the airlines themselves are desperate to avoid having to immediately refund huge numbers of customers. Industry body Airlines UK has written to the government asking them to allow carriers to issue vouchers instead of refunds. If refunds have to be given they want to wait until the coronavirus crisis is over and flight levels are back to normal.

Ryanair online refund system frustrates its customers

Ryanair passengers have told us they've tried a hundred times or more to make the online refund system work. Some have resorted to setting alarms for the early hours of the morning in the belief that it will be more likely to go through when fewer people are using it.

Customers have reported seeing a number of different error messages, from 'you have already submitted an application for this booking' to 'service unavailable because of high number of refund requests'.

British Airways insist passengers call for refund

British Airways website says: 'We're currently experiencing extremely high call volumes. Please don't call or message unless you're travelling in the next 72 hours.'

Yet passengers have been told that they only way they can obtain a refund is by phoning up its swamped customer service team.

Olivia Greenway told us that she attempted to get a refund for her flights to Italy online and was sent a link to a page that offered her the choice of rebooking or cancelling for a refund.

But when she chose refund she was directed to a page where she was offered a voucher for future travel. She says it was only because she'd claimed a refund from the airline in the past that she knew she did not need to accept a voucher.

She phoned the airline and after 20 minutes on hold she was able to get through and request her refund. Others have told us about much longer waits to speak to somebody.

EasyJet's cancelled flights officially 'sold out'.

EasyJet passengers have been confused by the fact that their flights in April aren't cancelled - despite the fact that the airline grounded most of its fleet this week until further notice. This is because the airline, rather than officially cancelling the flights, has listed them all as 'sold out'.

This means that customers won't get the cancellation email. Presumably the flights will be officially cancelled nearer the date they're due to fly and only then will passengers be able to use the online claims system.

Some passengers on hold all week - but now all have to call

The easyJet passengers who have had their flight cancelled initially received a message telling them to click on a link to request a refund. However, passengers reported on complaints forums that they were receiving error messages and having to contact customer service for assistance. One passenger reported trying to call for a week - spending three hours on hold at a time.

Another complained that she'd spent eight hours calling the airline but each time, after two hours on hold, the line was cut off.

More recently passengers have told us that there is no longer a link for claiming a refund in the cancellation email, nor does it explain that they are entitled to a refund. EasyJet told us:

'Customers on cancelled flights can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online or claim a refund through our contact centre. We are experiencing higher than average wait times so we would thank customers for their patience and assure them that these entitlements will be available long after their cancelled flight has flown.'

How to ensure you get a refund

Passengers should not be fobbed off with a voucher or the option to rebook if they would prefer a refund for a flight that's cancelled by the airline. While the airlines are lobbying for a temporary change in the law, this has not been accepted by the government yet.

However, while it's advisable to claim a refund within the next few weeks, it is not essential to claim immediately if you are not in urgent need of the money.

British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair have all confirmed to us that passengers do not have to claim right away and they can still claim their refund even after the flight should have departed.

Some Ryanair passengers were concerned after the received notification that their flights were back on - in some cases minutes before they were due to depart. However, we've confirmed that they are still entitled to refunds. Passenger Joanna Pearl (who we heard from in our previous story) finally received a refund after trying the online system between 75 and 100 times.

Claiming for a payment made with a credit or debit card

After making multiple failed attempts to claim online from Ryanair or struggling to get through to British Airways, some passengers even say they've resorted to calling their bank or card provider. Legally, if you've paid with a credit card you may have protection in the event of a company failing to provide a service you've already paid for. Although this route does require you to have spent over £100 on the cancelled ticket. Find out more about claiming on a credit card.

If the amount was under £100 or you used a debit card, you may be able to use the chargeback scheme.

In the case of flight cancellations it's unclear what the response of card providers will be but some passengers may be able to get their money back this way. However, it's advisable to try everything possible to get a refund directly from the airline first.