Ryanair has been ranked the worst short-haul airline for handling refunds during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dublin-based carrier received a refund satisfaction score of just 47% in a survey by consumer group Which?
More than one-in-five respondents who booked a Ryanair flight, that was either cancelled or they were unable to board due to the virus, said it took them more than a month to get a refund.
British Airways was ranked the second lowest of five airlines for refund satisfaction, with a score of 63%.
Some passengers who telephoned the firm reported spending hours on hold only to be hung up on, while others were continuously passed between different departments.
The vast majority of flights were cancelled following the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 as demand for travel collapsed.
Under consumer law, affected passengers were entitled to cash refunds within 14 days, but many airlines were overwhelmed by requests.
Millions of passengers also struggled to obtain refunds for flights which went ahead, but they could not use because of lockdowns.
Jet2 was ranked the best short-haul carrier for refunds, with 84% of respondents satisfied with how their claim was handled.
In October, Which? surveyed 1,124 members of its online research panel who had experienced a disrupted flight since March 2020.
Of those who had completed the refund request process, 77 had booked to fly with Ryanair and 325 were British Airways customers.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Ryanair’s consistently terrible customer service has made it a fixture among the worst performers in our surveys for many years – but the airline plumbed new depths with its handling of Covid refunds.
“BA’s reputation also deservedly took a battering when it took a hard line on refunds for passengers who could not travel because they followed Government health guidance.
“Covid could still cause disruption to international travel, so we would advise travellers to book with operators that have flexible booking policies and a record of treating their customers fairly.”
British Airways responded: “We’re proud that we were the first UK airline to offer customers the flexibility to amend their plans at the beginning of the pandemic, by providing vouchers that they can use up to September 2023.
“If we cancel a flight we always contact customers to offer a range of options including a full refund. We’ve issued more than 4.2 million refunds and have dealt with more than 3.3 million voucher requests to date.
“However, we know we can do better and we’re working hard behind the scenes, upgrading our phone systems and recruiting more people to deliver a better and faster customer experience that we know our customers deserve.”
Ryanair did not respond to a request for a comment on the research.
Meanwhile, Ryanair has failed in its bid to overturn a court ruling that it cannot avoid paying compensation to passengers affected by industrial action.
Tens of thousands of customers were affected when flights were cancelled due to a series of walkouts by pilots and cabin crew during the summer of 2018.
The Dublin-based carrier claimed it was exempt from awarding compensation because the disruption was due to “extraordinary circumstances”.
But the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) disagreed and took legal action against the airline.
The High Court rejected Ryanair’s position in April 2021 and, on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal dismissed its attempt to overturn that decision.
At the time of the disruption, passengers whose short-haul flights to or from UK airports were cancelled within 14 days of the departure date were entitled to up to £208 of compensation based on the timings of alternative flights offered.
The current maximum amount of compensation is £220.
Lord Justice Newey, who heard the appeal with two other judges, said on Wednesday: “The strikes from which the cancellations arose, relating as they did to employment conditions of employees of Ryanair, did not constitute extraordinary circumstances whether or not the aims of the strikers were reasonable or achievable and notwithstanding the involvement of trade unions.”
CAA director Paul Smith said: “We are committed to protecting the rights of air passengers and are determined to ensure all airlines comply with their legal obligations.
“We would like to advise consumers that Ryanair may seek to appeal this judgment to the Supreme Court – affected customers should therefore await further information before pursuing their claims.
“Given consumers have been waiting for clarity on this subject since 2018, this process reinforces the need to modernise our powers.”
Ryanair later confirmed it was seeking a further appeal. A statement from the company said: “We have instructed our lawyers to appeal this decision.”
The CAA can take legal action against airlines generally relies on holding discussions with carriers when it is concerned about their actions.
In July 2020, it said this approach led to all airlines offering cash refunds for flights cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, after some passengers complained they could only receive vouchers.
On Monday, the Department for Transport launched a consultation on plans to give the CAA the power to directly fine airlines for breaching consumer laws.
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