Ryanair and British Airways have taken the two bottom spots in Which?'s first airlines survey to include flights taken during the pandemic, with passengers also rating their experiences when travel was disrupted.
The pandemic has brought out some of the worst customer service that the airlines sector has ever seen. While seat comfort, the boarding process and the flight experience are still important, passengers also want to know which airlines will refund you quickly, or offer alternatives when things go wrong.
Ryanair failed on both measures. Passengers that were able to fly in the last two years gave it just two stars for cabin cleanliness, boarding and customer service and its overall customer score was a fairly dismal 55%. And those who had had a flight disrupted since March 2020 were even less impressed. Just 47% were satisfied with the options offered by the airline in response to a flight they could not take.
National flag carrier, British Airways, did better receiving 63% for both the overall customer score and the refund score, but was still second from bottom in the table.
Both airlines were investigated last year by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) because they refused refunds to customers who couldn't fly because they were in lockdown. The CMA dropped the investigation due to a 'lack of clarity in the law', stating it couldn't justify the expense of taking the case further. But it said it 'strongly believed' the airlines should have given these customers their money back.
Just 29% of those who told us their flight was disrupted were satisfied with the customer service they received from Ryanair.
One in five people told us it took more than three months to get refunds. The airline also refused refunds for those who couldn't legally travel because they were in lockdown.
It has also vacillated on its 'zero change fees' policy for new bookings, scrapping it entirely in October last year, only to reintroduce it in late December and then ditch it again in January 2022. The policy does not apply to any bookings made now. And even those who were able to change their flights without incurring fees have told us that the policy left them.
Customers also told us that it was very difficult to contact the airline to resolve issues, with emails and phone calls going unanswered, and customers forced to queue online to talk to chat bots. As one reader put it 'Ryanair is the most awkward airline to deal with that I have ever come across. It seems to be proud of being difficult'.
Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.
At the very start of the pandemic, BA's phone lines were, understandably, overwhelmed. But nearly two years on, our survey shows that things have not sufficiently improved.
Customers affected by the schedule changes that plagued 2021 report spending hours on hold, only to be hung up on or passed endlessly between departments. 'It was impossible to speak to anyone', explained one reader. 'I was on hold for a very long time, then they cut me off. This happened multiple times'.
It's for this reason that just 47% of customers with disrupted flights were satisfied with BA's customer service while trying to resolve the problem.
However, despite the airline refusing refunds to people who were unable to travel due to lockdown, most people (63%) were satisfied with the options offered when they did finally get through.
And BA's redeeming feature is its flexible policy on new bookings. You can rebook, or cancel and request a voucher for any reason right up until check-in for your flight closes. This policy applies to flight bookings up to 31 August 2022.
BA told us 'we know we can do better and we're working hard behind the scenes, upgrading our phone systems and recruiting more people to deliver a better and faster customer experience'.
In October 2021, Which? Surveyed 1,373 members of its panel about their experiences of flying in the past two years. Which? also surveyed 1,124 members of its panel who had experienced a disrupted flight since March 2020.