Airlines must be penalised for refusing Covid refunds, says consumer group

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Airlines like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways should face “strong action” from regulators for refusing to issue refunds to customers complying with England’s new tier 4 Covid restrictions, consumer advocates have said.

Virgin Atlantic has told customers it will offer full cash refunds only if flights are cancelled by the airline. Travellers who are hit by new tier 4 restrictions and follow the new stay-home orders in south-east England will, however, be allowed to rebook their flight fee-free on only two occasions until December 2022, or transfer the ticket to another person.

British Airways is sticking to a similar policy that only lets customers rebook for free or request a voucher to travel at a later date. “As always, if a customer’s flight is cancelled they are entitled to a full refund or a voucher,” the airline said.

We’re aware of the latest restrictions in London and the South East, including an advisory against non-essential travel. For further information please visit our Latest Travel News:

— virginatlantic (@VirginAtlantic) December 19, 2020

Ryanair is also refusing to offer refunds, saying customers booked on to UK flights between 20 and 24 December would be allowed only to move their booking fee-free to any date before 15 March, unless flights are cancelled or banned by EU governments.

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The consumer rights group Which? said airlines who fail to offer full refunds should face strong repercussions by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Rory Boland, travel editor of Which? said: “The terms set down by the CMA are clear – it expects customers to be given the option of a refund when they can’t travel because of lockdown laws.

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“While a few airlines continue to do the right thing by customers, despite facing financial difficulty, others continue to break the rules, and should face strong action from the regulator as a result.”

Meanwhile, the discount airline easyJet is offering full refunds for customers affected by the new tier 4 restrictions, as well as vouchers and fee-free rebooking, regardless of whether flights are cancelled.

Last week, the CMA said it would investigate whether airlines had breached consumer rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they were not legally allowed to board due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

Boland said customers should email their airline saying they expect a refund, and then complain to the CMA. Customers forced into accepting a voucher may still be able to claim their money back at a later date.

Virgin said: “We understand the difficulties that Covid-19 and tier 4 restrictions pose to some of our customers. Where a customer is unable to travel for any reason, we offer as much choice and flexibility as possible.”