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Cars & travel.

6 October 2021

Best and worst airlines

Thousands of passengers rate their experience of Ryanair, British Airways, EasyJet, TUI, Jet2 and other popular airlines
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Which?Editorial team
Singapore airlines 458693

Our survey of customer satisfaction with Ryanair, British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Tui and Virgin Atlantic, as well as experience of getting a refund, shows there are some carriers you shouldn't trust with your money. 

After travel's toughest year in 2020 we weren't able to carry out our annual airlines survey. Instead we looked at whether six of the biggest airlines were refunding people promptly after cancellations. There were huge differences - with Jet2 generally doing a good job but Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, in particular, letting customers down.  Many customers faced waits of several months to get a refund, while some had to turn to their bank or even court for help. 

When booking a flight for 2021 or 2022 when we are likely to face further disruption to travel plans, you'll need to consider not just what your flight might be like, but also how the airline will treat you if anything goes wrong.

By law, airlines are supposed to refund you within seven days when they cancel a flight. But how did passengers say the UK's largest airlines did. 

How long did Ryanair take to refund customers? 

No Ryanair customer in our survey received their cash refund within seven days of a cancellation. Worse still, just 5% got their money back within 28 days and almost a third still hadn't had a refund after three months. 

When we contacted Ryanair about refunds in November 2020, a spokesperson told us: ‘All Ryanair passengers who have requested a refund since our offices reopened on 1 June have now received these refunds. There is no backlog of refunds.’ 

Ryanair customer satisfaction score: 13%

How long did Virgin Atlantic take to refund customers? 

Very few Virgin customers received a refund in seven days, while just 3% received their money within 28 days – that's worse than Ryanair. Like Ryanair, nearly a third were still waiting after three months.  Virgin Atlantic apologised to customers and said: ‘As planned, we completed the backlog of refunds in November 2020 and returned to processing refunds within normal timeframes.'

Virgin Atlantic customer satisfaction score: 13%

How long did easyJet take to refund customers? 

Just 4% of easyJet customers told us they received their money back within seven days. That would mean in 96% of those cases the airline was breaking the law. However, relatively few customers had to wait for as long as those of Ryanair or Virgin – just 3% were still waiting after three months. Perhaps as a result, its customer satisfaction ratings were better than those of either airline.

easyJet customer satisfaction score: 45%

How long did British Airways take to refund customers? 

British Airways was the only airline that managed to refund 52% of its customers in our survey within seven days. Only 2% were waiting more than three months. Despite this, many passengers were disappointed by how long it took to receive their money after a cancellation. At the start of the pandemic, it only offered refund credit notes and passengers who wanted a full refund had to call its overstretched call centre. British Airways told us: ‘We have been doing everything we can to help our customers and our teams continue to work around the clock to provide refunds as quickly as possible.'

British Airways customer satisfaction score: 50%

How long did Tui take to refund its customers?

While most of Tui’s customers have package holidays, which operate under different rules, some also bought flight-only deals. Some 21% of these were refunded within seven days of cancellations and 62% were refunded within 28 days. At the start of the pandemic it made customers wait on hold to its call centre to request a refund, but in May it introduced a new online system, which made the process much simpler and quicker. It apologised to customers for the issues faced and told us: ‘Since earlier this summer, customers have been automatically refunded so they don’t need to call us or request this.’ 

Tui customer satisfaction score: 57%

How long did Jet2 take to refund its customers? 

Just over a third of Jet2 customers received a refund within seven days, but 83% received it within 28 days of flight cancellations – the best of any airline we looked at. Its customer satisfaction scores were much better than those of other airlines and it remains a Which? Recommended Provider. 

Jet2 customer satisfaction score: 76%

In September 2020, we asked 1,559 people about their experiences of claiming a refund for a flight cancelled during the pandemic.

Our annual airlines survey - 2019

Our survey of more than 6,500 passengers in 2019 is still the best insight into what your flight might be like when things, finally, get back to normal. You told us about customer service, food and drink, and what it was like on board more than 10,000 flights and 29 airlines, from British Airways and Ryanair, to easyJet and Emirates. 

We found budget airlines at the top and bottom of our table, as well as some big name carriers that passengers thought were poor quality. 

Best long-haul economy airlines

Members can login to see the full results, or if you're not a member, then join Which? to get instant access to this and other reviews. 

The table below shows the results of our 2019 airline survey including which airlines are Which? Recommended Providers (WRP).

Which? Recommended Provider
Airline
Punctuality
Seat comfort
Food and drink
In-flight entertainment
Cabin environment
Customer service
Value for money
Customer Score
73%
88%
80%
79%
79%
76%
82%
72%
83%
-
69%
62%
68%
60%
-
-
-
68%
79%
67%
66%
67%
46%
-
-
64%
77%
62%
67%
60%
88%
56%
79%
55%
78%
48%

Best short-haul economy airlines

Members can login to see the full results, or if you're not a member, then join Which? to get instant access to this and other reviews. 

The table below shows the results of our 2019 airline survey including which airlines are Which? Recommended Providers (WRP).

Which? Recommended Provider
Airline
Punctuality
Seat comfort
Food and drink
Cabin environment
Customer service
Value for money
Customer Score
83%
-
82%
81%
79%
72%
-
74%
81%
71%
75%
71%
69%
70%
73%
69%
77%
-
67%
70%
65%
83%
65%
66%
61%
79%
60%
66%
59%
78%

56%
79%


55%
69%
-
54%
75%

44%

Using the tables - scores and sample sizes explained

  • Customer score: Combines overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend the airline. All ratings for economy class travel. A dash indicates that there were too few responses for this aspect to give a star rating.
  • Seat pitch: The distance between two rows of seats, an indicator of legroom.
  • Punctuality: Percentage of flights that arrived in to the UK within 15 minutes of time due, according to CAA data (short-haul and long-haul).
  • Boarding: The boarding process – waiting time, queues, etc.
  • Cabin environment: Fixtures and fittings, temperature and lighting.
  • Customer service: On-ground and on-board staff.
  • Food and drink: Range and quality of on-board catering.
  • In-flight entertainment: Quality of free wi-fi, ear phones, TV screen.

Long-haul airline sample sizes: Singapore Airlines (77) Emirates (213),Qatar Airways (47), Cathay Pacific (45), KLM (38), Norwegian (44), Virgin Atlantic (202), Etihad Airways (44), Air Transat (40), Qantas (37), Air Canada (81), Delta Airlines (49), British Airways (309), Thomas Cook Airlines (41), Thomson/Tui Airways (68), United Airlines (43), American Airlines (69). Short-haul airline sample sizes: Aurigny Air Services (42), Swiss (58), Jet2.com (1,020), Norwegian (185), KLM (150), Air Malta (40), SAS Scandinavian Airlines (57), Aer Lingus (127), Lufthansa (104), Flybe (574), easyJet (2,099), Eurowings (55), TAP Portugal (94), Thomson/Tui Airways (604, British Airways (1,023), Vueling Airlines (75), Wizz Air (69), Thomas Cook Airlines (301), Ryanair (1,161).

Short-haul airline sample sizes: Aurigny Air Services (42), Swiss (58), Jet2.com (1,020), Norwegian (185), KLM (150), Air Malta (40), SAS Scandinavian Airlines (57), Aer Lingus (127), Lufthansa (104), Flybe (574), easyJet (2,099), Eurowings (55), TAP Portugal (94), Thomson/Tui Airways (604, British Airways (1,023), Vueling Airlines (75), Wizz Air (69), Thomas Cook Airlines (301), Ryanair (1,161).

What makes an airline a Which? Recommended Provider?

In September 2019, we asked Which? members to complete an online survey about their recent experiences of flying with an airline from the UK. They reported on a total of 10,180 flights. Their customer score was based on a combination of overall satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending the airline to a friend. Only airlines rated by at least 30 members are included.

Which? Recommended Providers are those that you gave a customer score of at least 70%, but that's not all. Our researchers then scrutinise each company and its policies to make sure the company is worthy of a WRP.

SAS, Aer Lingus, Swiss Airlines, Singapore and Qatar Airways had their WRP status withheld for their 'no show' clause. This is the outrageous practice of airlines cancelling your return flight, sometimes without even letting you know, when you've missed your outbound flight. You lose your flight and in most cases, your money too. We won't make any airline that cancels your return flight in these circumstances a WRP.