‘Impossible to comply with law on refunds’ say airlines

Airlines are finding it “impossible to comply with the law” on refunds for cancelled flights, MPs were told today.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, told Parliament’s Transport Select Committee: “There are issues over airline refunds. There has been a complete crash in global aviation and everyone is claiming refunds from carriers.”

European Union rules on air passenger rights require airlines to refund consumers or their travel agents for cancelled flights within seven days.

Alderslade acknowledged: “Under EC Regulation 261, airlines have to provide a refund within seven days.” He added: “They can offer a credit note and incentives to take that.”

But he said: “It’s impossible to comply with the law as it stands. I spoke to one airline which in April 2019 paid 51 refunds. In April 2020 it had 45,000.

Alderslade pointed out it took the CAA seven months to process refund claims following the failure of Thomas Cook.

He said: “Owing to social distancing restrictions airlines can’t bring in people to call centres to process these refunds.”

Airlines UK represents carriers including British Airways and easyJet, and Alderslade said: “Every one of our members is now paying refunds.”

But he pointed out: “Fifteen EU member states have now written to the EU saying there needs to be more flexibility in the law to allow vouchers, or guidance to passengers that it is impossible to pay out at the moment.”

However, journalist Simon Calder earlier told the select committee he had been “appalled” by airlines’ failure to provide cash refunds, saying: “I’m owed money by a whole range of providers.”

Calder said: “BA and easyJet both chose to remove the online refund option and, I won’t say they concealed the fact there is a right to a refund in seven days, but they made it very, very difficult.

“Easyjet has now rolled that back a bit. With BA, you have to phone up for a refund. But compared to some European airlines that is relatively good.”

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer told MPs: “One of the things making to very difficult for tour operators to refund customers is that the money hasn’t come back to them from the airlines.”

Abta’s Mark Tanzer spoke to Travel Weekly’s Ian Taylor one day prior to appearing before the Transport Select Committee

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