Regulator ‘failing’ passengers over lack of enforcement action on refund delays

The UK’s aviation regulator has been accused of “failing” passengers over its lack of enforcement action for refund delays.

Consumer group Which? claimed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has allowed carriers to “continue to behave terribly”.

The CAA published its review into refunds during the coronavirus pandemic, which found that several airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, Ryanair and Tui initially either did not offer cash payments or had large backlogs of requests.

The regulator said its discussions resulted in carriers changing their practices and they are all now offering cash refunds.

It pledged to continue to monitor Virgin Atlantic’s performance “particularly closely and will consider the use of formal enforcement powers if necessary”.

This comes after the airline warned customers they may need to wait up to 120 days for a pay out.

It has since pledged to reduce the maximum time month by month, reaching 30 days in October.

UK consumer laws state that passengers are entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights within seven days.

The CAA has the power to launch court action against aviation businesses but the review stated this is “not well suited to swift action”.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, was unimpressed by that explanation.

He said: “The regulator is failing the consumers it is supposed to protect.

“The reality is that people are still owed millions of pounds in refunds, are facing financial and emotional turmoil, and continue to be fobbed off by a number of airlines who have been brazenly breaking the law for months.

“These airlines will now feel they can continue to behave terribly having faced no penalty or sanction.”

Mr Boland added that the CAA “does not have the right tools to take effective action” and questioned whether it would have “the appetite to use them”.

CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty 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.”