Airlines owe up to £4.5m in unpaid refunds, but which are the worst offenders?

By Linsey McNeill
Home » Airlines owe up to £4.5m in unpaid refunds, but which are the worst offenders?

Airlines including British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, TUI and Wizz have run up millions of pounds in County Court Judgments for unpaid refunds and expenses for cancelled flights, according to Which?

It says the official register shows airlines collectively owe £4.5m.

Wizz Air accounts for almost half the total amount, even though it carries fewer passenger than some of its rivals, said the consumer body.

It found that the Hungarian airline has 1,601 ‘outstanding’ County Court Judgments, totalling almost £2.2m.

The figures are revealed in the Registry Trust, which maintains the official register of judgments for England and Wales on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.

Wizz blamed the pile of unpaid refunds on disruption caused by the pandemic. It told Which? “We have learnt a lot from this challenging period and we are putting measures in place to ensure we are better prepared, including more customer services resources and revised processes.”

The airline told Which? it had settled more than 400 CCJs since December, but said problems with the postal service meant it didn’t receive the information it needed from the courts to settle some cases.

“Online registers do not provide us with the information required to settle a case. We must, therefore, write to individual courts to apply for information about each case when we are made aware of it, and then wait to receive that information. This all makes for a complicated and time-consuming process,” it said.

“We are taking this matter extremely seriously, doing all we can to fix these issues and settle all outstanding cases as quickly as possible.”

Which other airlines owe money for refunds?

EasyJet has 884 ‘outstanding’ County Court Judgments for over £600k, according to the Registry, but the airline told Which? that all the CCJs have been paid and claimed that the register hasn’t been updated.

Trust Online, the official register of court judgements told the consumer body: “Even when a judgment is paid, the judgment will continue to show as ‘unsatisfied’ until the court records are updated’.

It said defendants are responsible for providing updates about the status of CCJs.

Ryanair has 840, worth almost £550k.

TUI has fewer, at 313, but they are worth £1.3m, according to Which? but TUI suggested some of the CCJs might have been paid.

In a statement, TUI told Travel Gossip: “Whilst the register shows that a number of judgments against TUI Airways, this does not mean that all of these amounts are owed.

“In most cases it is indicative only of the record not having been updated to show payment. TUI Airways will be taking steps to address the record. TUI would like to assure customers that we are addressing these issues. Our delay claims team is currently working through any outstanding cases with customers directly.”

BA has 82 ‘outstanding claims’, for just over £96k, and Jet2 – a Which? Recommended Provider – has four, for £1,434.

Travel Gossip has approached British Airways and Ryanair for a comment. Which? said neither airline responded to its request for comment.

Which? urges CAA to get tough

Which? is calling for the Civil Aviation Authority to use its powers to take action against airlines that fail to pay passengers money they are owed.

Citing Wizz as the worst offender, Which? said the CAA should consider whether it has beached the requirements of its licence to operate in the UK.

“Ultimately, the CAA has the power to suspend or revoke an airline’s licence,” it said.

Which? is also calling for the Government to give the CAA more powers to directly fine airlines ‘and hold them accountable to ensure they comply with the law’. 

“The failing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system must be reformed by mandating membership to all airlines operating in the UK and by establishing a single statutory-backed ombudsman in this sector,” it said.

“Currently, multiple industry schemes compete for airline contracts, creating incentives for them to favour the airline rather than the consumer.”

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, added:“The scale of court judgments piling up against major airlines is a result of a system where the odds are stacked against passengers and airlines feel empowered to routinely ignore their legal obligations to pay out refunds and compensation.

“The CAA must get tough with airlines and make clear that it will consider using all the powers at its disposal – which may include reviewing the licences of the worst offenders if appropriate.

“To avoid a repeat of this mess in future, the Government must also prioritise reforms that put passengers first, which means giving the regulator powers and resources to require information from airlines as to their compliance with the law and to directly fine rogue operators that do not comply.”

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