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20 May 2020

Trust in the travel industry plummets to record low amid coronavirus refunds scandal

Which? finds consumer trust in airlines and holiday companies is at lowest in seven years
Airport cancellations

New Which? research shows that trust in the travel industry has dropped from a net score of 9 in February 2020 to -12 in May 2020 - a drop of 21 points, as many holiday companies and airlines continue to deny and delay refunds for coronavirus cancellations.

Eight weeks on since international travel halted, Which? surveyed more than 2,000 people about their level of trust in airlines and holiday operators. Just one in five (22%) said they trust these industries.

The majority (58%) of people told us they were still waiting for refunds for cancelled flights and holidays. Nearly half of those are owed at least £500, and nearly three in 10 are owed more than £1,000.

Net trust in airlines and holiday operators drops following the coronavirus crisis

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Travel companies ignoring customers' rights

Consumers struggle to get refunds over the phone

Which? previously revealed that all of the UK's major airlines and tour operators are breaking the law by refusing or delaying refunds for cancelled flights and holidays.

Legally, consumers are entitled to a refund for cancelled package holidays within 14 days, under the Package Travel Regulations. Those with flight-only bookings are entitled to a full refund within seven days under the Denied Passenger Boarding Regulation. Despite this, millions have waited months for their money to be returned, or been told to accept a refund credit note or voucher instead. The industry's own estimate suggests that up to £7bn of travellers' money has been affected.

Tui and Virgin Holidays are just two companies that Which? has criticised for forcing credit notes onto customers, even after they've requested a cash refund. Both say that these credit notes can later be swapped for cash, if customers contact them.

Ryanair customers have been sent vouchers, despite making it clear - sometimes on several occasions - they want cash refunds. The airline says that customers can have a refund, but they will have to wait until the coronavirus crisis is over to cash in. KLM and Air France customers will also have to wait 12 months for their vouchers to expire before they can get a refund.

Those consumers who have secured refunds reported long phone calls and email conversations. Other frustrated passengers have turned to their card providers to claim back costs. There have been mixed reports on the success of these claims, but both Visa and Mastercard have told Which? that cardholders can claim if they don't wish to accept a voucher.

Which?'s 10-point plan to rebuild trust in travel

Which? understands the immense pressure the industry is under in the circumstances, but it doesn't believe that consumers should be footing the bill to support holiday companies. That's why we've launched a 10-point plan. It calls on the government to take urgent action to help both consumers gain refunds and prop up confidence in travel, to ensure the sector isn't permanently damaged.

As part of our plan, which you can read in full here, we're calling for:

  • The right to a refund to be protected: Everyone who is currently eligible to receive a refund must be offered a cash refund when their flight or holiday is cancelled.
  • Credit notes to be protected and optional: A credit note/voucher may be offered as an alternative but not the sole option when a flight or holiday is cancelled. These vouchers must also be time-limited, with a full refund provided at the end of the term, with terms and conditions clearly and proactively communicated. All credit notes/vouchers must be insolvency protected.
  • Action when airlines fail to refund customers: Airlines must be supported throughout the outbreak and effectively held to account when failing to offer and issue refunds for cancelled flights.
  • Flexibility for companies struggling to manage during this crisis: The statutory 14-day refund period for package holidays should be temporarily extended to a maximum of one month.

Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2,095 people between 13 and 15 May about their level of trust in airlines and holiday companies. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.

Net trust is calculated by subtracting the proportion of those who don't trust the industry from those who do. A score below zero indicates that a greater proportion don't trust the industry than do.