The government faces a renewed call to step in to support the struggling travel sector as a poll revealed that thousands of passengers have waited months to obtain refunds from airlines.

Ryanair was named by Which? as the worst for processing refunds for cancelled flights due to Covid-19, with 84% of those who asked for a refund saying they have yet to receive their money back.

The consumer group surveyed almost 2,800 airline customers that had flights cancelled since mid-March as a result of the global pandemic. More than 1,600 of those asked their airline for a cash refund.

Just 5% of Ryanair customers surveyed said they had their money returned to them within seven days – the time frame that EU carriers are legally obliged to process refunds within. Only one in six (16%) Ryanair customers have received a refund at all.

Just one in seven (14%) Easyjet customers received a refund within seven days, and around three in five (63%) are still waiting for their money back.

In contrast, a quarter (23%) of British Airways customers and one in five (19%) Jet2 customers are still waiting for their money back, with 39% of BA customers receiving their money back within the legal time frame, and 29% of Jet2 custormers.

Which? recently revealed that trust in airlines and holiday companies has dropped to its lowest score on record in the seven years the consumer champion has collected the data, following carriers’ handling of refunds for cancelled flights.

The consumer champion has launched a tool to allow consumers to report their airline to the aviation regulator if they have been unable to get a refund for a cancelled flight following the Civil Aviation Authority announcing an investigation into airlines’ handling of refunds.

Which? has also repeatedly called on the government to step in with urgent support for the industry, to allow airlines and holiday companies the financial means to refund their customers without fear of going bust, and to help restore trust in the travel industry.

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “We have heard from thousands of frustrated passengers who have told us they are finding it almost impossible to get refunds they are legally entitled to from airlines, with some having waited months now without a penny returned to them.

“Some airlines are doing much better than others at refunding their customers, proving that while these are indeed difficult times for the industry, withholding customers’ money from them is simply inexcusable.

“The regulator and government cannot sit on their hands any longer.

“The CAA must urgently hold airlines that are brazenly breaking the law to account, and the government must set out how it will support the industry where necessary if airlines are unable to refund their customers without fear of going under.”

Time taken to refund British Airways Easyjet Ryanair
Within 7 days 39% 14% 29% 5%
Refund not yet received 23% 63% 19% 84%

Which? said Ryanair did not respond to a request to comment.

However, an easyJet spokesperson said: “Customers on cancelled flights can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online.

“Customers may also request a refund by submitting a claim in writing via a dedicated refund webform, online. We are processing refunds for customers and aim to do so in less than 28 days.”

A spokesperson for Jet2 said: “Like all other airlines and tour operators, the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted us. With aircraft grounded, our focus has been on looking after the many thousands of customers whose flights and holidays have been affected, and we are very proud to have been repeatedly praised by customers, media outlets, industry commentators and consumer organisations for how we have been treating customers in response to the pandemic.

“We are continuing to operate a fully staffed call centre, and even though our teams are subject to the same difficulties and restrictions as everyone else, they are working tirelessly to proactively contact customers in departure date order to discuss their options.

“We believe that contacting customers in departure date order is the fairest way to deal with this, and the feedback we have received tells us this has been the right thing to do.”

A BA spokesperson said: “If a customer’s flight has been cancelled, they should call us to discuss their options. They can rebook, refund or choose to take a voucher to fly at a later date. Refunds can be requested at any point up to 12 months after the start date of the journey.”