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Airlines and travel firms ‘illegally resisting refunds’

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Customers are struggling to get refunds on cancelled holidays

Britain’s biggest airlines and holiday companies are being accused of breaking the law by resisting demands to refund customers for travel cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumer group Which? found widespread and routine withholding of refunds that should be paid within 14 days.

The EU’s Denied Boarding Regulations state that air passengers are due a refund if a flight with an airline based in the UK or EU, or from an airport in the UK or EU, is cancelled.

Which? said the travel industry’s own estimates suggested the airlines are withholding £7 billion of travellers’ money.

None of the 10 biggest travel companies was giving a refund in the legally specified timeframe, with some refusing refunds altogether.

The same applied to the 10 biggest airlines, none of which was meeting the deadline.

It cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms

– Rory Boland, Which?

In many cases, consumers have been offered vouchers or credit notes.

On Monday Ryanair told its customers that they will have to wait until “the COVID-19 emergency has passed” if they want a refund for a cancelled flight.

However, industry bodies such as Iata, representing the airlines, and Abta, for the travel firms, have said they could collapse by repaying customers now as they are receiving no income.

Rory Boland, of Which? Travel, said: “We do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, but it cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own.

“The government must urgently set out how it will support travel firms and airlines to ensure they can meet their legal obligations to refund customers for cancelled travel plans, and avoid permanent damage to trust and confidence in the travel industry.”

Abta has called on the UK government to follow the practice in other countries which are allowing deferred refunds.

Its chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “The UK government, despite repeated requests, has failed to recognise and respond to…the clear sensible actions taken by the European commission and many countries throughout Europe.

“We fully understand and sympathise with the frustration that many customers may be feeling. But if companies are forced into bankruptcy, it will not only destroy livelihoods but extend the refund delays far beyond the term of refund credit notes.”

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