UK Civil Aviation Authority Reports on Airline Refunds Review

Civil Aviation Authority action has led to airlines making commitments to improve performance without requiring formal enforcement action

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has been reviewing the refund policies and performance of UK airlines and three of the largest international operators to the UK. A further five international airlines were included due to the level of consumer feedback and concerns that refunds were not being paid during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Civil Aviation Authority review is based on its own investigations, as well as information provided to us by consumers across email and social media, as well as through consumer bodies including the Competition and Markets Authority, the Northern Ireland Consumer Council and Which?.

At the start of the review, some airlines were not paying refunds, with others facing potential backlogs of numerous months. We investigated airlines’ policies and practices to establish whether they were placing barriers in the way of consumers requesting refunds, through unclear messaging, difficult to navigate customer services and under-resourced call centres. While we recognise that the coronavirus pandemic was an unprecedented situation for the aviation industry, our consumer team has worked to protect consumer rights and to influence airlines to change their processes and practices in order to improve performance in providing refunds.

The Civil Aviation Authority now has evidence that shows that since it launched its review, and its wide-ranging engagement programme with airlines, all UK airlines are now paying refunds. Call centre wait times have reduced, in some cases significantly, and customer service messaging has provided greater clarity on consumers’ rights to a refund for cancelled flights.

Our review found that a number of airlines were not performing adequately. We have gained immediate commitments from these airlines to improve their performance and the time taken to provide refunds to consumers, without requiring enforcement action. This is the most immediate way of providing benefits to consumers as enforcement processes can take a considerable amount of time to complete given the potential for legal proceedings. We have previously called for stronger, more immediate, powers to act to protect consumer rights.
Other European airlines were not initially within the scope of our review due to discussions taking place between National Enforcement Bodies, European governments and the EU Commission. Engaging with these other EU airlines at that point would have potentially cut across these other discussions. However, we have today written to a further 30 major European and international airlines that operate services to and from the UK to highlight the results of our review, and to warn them not to deny consumers their right to a refund. We will not hesitate to take further action against any airlines where necessary.

Commenting on the review, Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers.

“Although we have taken into account the serious operational challenges many airlines have faced, we have been clear that customers cannot be let down, and that airlines must pay refunds as soon as possible.

“There is still work to do. We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

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