Which? received more than 14,000 complaints in just under six weeks from passengers struggling to get refunds for cancelled flights. The 12,602 we analysed were worth a total of £5.6 million. The dossier of complaints has now been passed onto the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Frustrated passengers, who are desperately trying to get their money back after flight cancellations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, reported their airline's response using Which?'s airline complaints tool.
[UPDATE] Which? has now joined with other European consumer groups as part of a coordinated action by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) to report several major airlines to the European Commission.
12 consumer organisations identified the following airlines as consistently breaking the law on refunds Aegean, Air France, EasyJet, KLM, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP Portugal, and Transavia.
BEUC is asking the European Commission to investigate three practices by airlines: forcing consumers to accept vouchers instead of a cash refund for cancelled flights; failing to provide information to consumers on their right to a refund; providing misleading information to consumers on their rights.
The law makes it clear that all flights departing from within the EU, as well as those arriving from outside operated by an EU airline, must be refunded within seven days of a cancellation. But four months after the flights were cancelled, many are still struggling to get money back, as airlines continue to ignore their legal obligations.
Those who reported their airline to Which? were out of pocket by an average of £446, and had collectively spent a total of 52,000 hours (nearly six years) chasing the airline for a refund.
Ryanair accounts for a disproportionate share of responses, both in terms of the volume and value of the complaints. In total, Ryanair customers were responsible for 44% of all the complaints received, accounting for over £1.15 million owed in refunds.
In terms of capacity, Ryanair is the third largest operator flying out of the UK, behind EasyJet and British Airways. However, our data shows that Ryanair owes over £400k more than the two market leading airlines, with its £1.15m total equating to 1 in every 5 pounds that was reported to us
This is despite the budget airline's relatively cheap fares. Respondents to our tool were owed an average of £206 by the Irish airline, compared to an average of £1,032 for Virgin Atlantic.
The second most complained about airline, EasyJet, accounted for 14% of responses - less than a third of Ryanair's. Customers told Which? they were collectively owed more than £663,000 in refunds. And three in ten said they were yet to receive a response from the airline.
Virgin Atlantic was the third most reported airline, accounting for 7% of all complaints. More than £915,000 is collectively owed to Virgin Atlantic customers.
Ryanair told Which? that it had already processed 40% of its backlog, but that the process time for cash refunds is taking longer due to 'unprecedented volumes' and 'fewer staff available due to social distancing measures'.
EasyJet also cited unprecedented times and reduced staffing, but says it has 'invested extra resources into the call centre to help reduce our queue as quickly as possible.'
Virgin Atlantic said it has also increased its refund handling team, and that 'payment will be processed within an absolute maximum of 120 days'.
When reporting their airline, passengers were asked how much time they'd spent chasing a refund. Collectively they have spent more than 52,000 fruitless hours pursuing refunds. That equates to a startling total of 2,172 days or nearly six years.
Customers report spending hours on the phone and in webchats, often in the midst of their own difficult circumstances brought on by the pandemic.
Ryanair passengers have had to jump through a number of hoops to request the cash refund they are legally entitled to. Having directed customers to online forms that didn't work, it then emailed vouchers to customers that had been clear they wanted cash, before most recently , which directs customers seeking a cash refund to a page about using vouchers.
But while a quarter of our Ryanair respondents told us they have spent more than 10 hours - and counting - trying to get their money back, the airline is not the most difficult to contact, according to our data.
Customers of Tui and Etihad have spent the most time chasing a refund, with four in ten of our respondents for each airline spending more than two hours trying to pursue a refund.
In response both Etihad and Tui told Which? that unprecedented levels of demand had led to delays. Tui said that new systems had led to improvement with 'an average call waiting time of 15 minutes' and customers 'refunded within 14 days'.