British Airways (BA) and EasyJet (EZJ.L) have gone against EU guidance in refusing to refund unused vouchers for flights cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an investigation by consumer group Which? some passengers willingly accepted vouchers in place of cash refunds when their flights were cancelled because of coronavirus, believing they were helping the airlines.
However others claim that they weren’t told they were also entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights, or that they were duped into accepting vouchers they didn’t want.
Which said: “The European Commission issued guidance in May recommending that airlines automatically refund any unused vouchers 14 days after they expire. However, this is only guidance, not a legal requirement.”
Ryanair has said its vouchers can be cashed in at any time, while BA and EasyJet have said that once used, their vouchers cannot be exchanged for cash.
Passengers could be left hundreds of pounds out of pocket if they fail to us them before they expire.
Which? found that when flights are cancelled by an EU airline or by an airline flying from an EU airport, passengers are entitled to a cash refund under EU Regulation 261 within seven days of the cancellation.
But after the pandemic grounded most flights leaving the UK earlier this year, all of the UK’s biggest airlines failed to meet this legal requirement, and many passengers were given vouchers instead.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said: “BA and Easyjet must immediately make it clear that passengers will not face losing their money if they are unable to use a voucher, while all airlines should be offering cash refunds to passengers prevented from travelling by lockdown laws.
“Major airlines have acted shamefully and without fear of consequences during this pandemic – the government must urgently review the CAA’s powers as part of its aviation recovery plan to ensure passengers have a regulator that can effectively stand up for them.”
BA customers in particular complained after the airline removed its online refund form from its website and directed people to its overwhelmed customer service line, which played an automated message before hanging up on the passenger, according to Which?.
Which? reported that BA denies its claims process is misleading, saying that it has issued more than 2.1 million cash refunds. It said it is clear that customers must call to request cash refunds, and insists that they only get a voucher if they fill out a form that clearly states they are requesting a voucher.
Easyjet told Which? passengers can request a refund online when their flight is cancelled, some willingly accepted vouchers to help support the airline. But some passengers now may not be able to use their vouchers because the airline has cut back on some routes in recent months, and Easyjet has said it will only refund vouchers in “exceptional circumstances as a gesture of goodwill.”
The revelations come following the news that an estimated £1bn ($1.3bn) in holiday refunds from cancelled travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic are still yet to be paid to consumers.
According to the research, also from consumer watchdog Which?, that total was out of an estimated £8bn worth of package holidays that were cancelled since the pandemic swept the globe.
Watch: Why can’t banks just print more money?