Ryanair and easyJet have been fined by Italy’s antitrust authority for failing to offer passengers cash refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.
The watchdog said the airlines had given customers vouches rather than cash refunds, to which they were legally entitled.
It fined Ryanair €4.2 million and easyJet €2.8m. Spanish airline Volotea was also fined €1.4m.
Both easyJet and Ryanair say they will appeal.
The regulator said Ryanair was ‘engaged in seriously improper conduct’ in failing to offer customers cash refunds for cancellations after June 2020.
In the UK, Ryanair automatically issues vouchers for cancelled flights, which customers can swap for cash refunds. The airline said last November that it had refunded £1.5 billion for flights cancelled due to the pandemic, but this figure included vouchers.
Both Ryanair and easyJet, along with many other airlines, were criticised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) last July for taking too long to process refunds. The regulator said Ryanair was taking 10 weeks or more to refund passengers for flight cancellations while easyJet customers were left waiting up to 90 days for their refunds to be processed, but both airlines escaped legal action after promising to speed up the process.
At the time, the CAA pointed out that it doesn’t have the power to fine airlines for any breaches, it can only take legal action against them.
In a statement regarding its fine in Italy, Ryanair told Travel Gossip: “We have instructed our lawyers to appeal this decision.
“Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis Ryanair has fully complied and will continue complying with government travel restrictions.
“Ryanair acted in full compliance with EU261 requirements and EC Guidelines on Passenger Rights in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to any cancellations that occurred from March 2020.
“Customers affected by these cancelled flights have been offered all options in compliance with EU law, including free moves, refunds in the form of cash or vouchers as an additional choice, subject to the passenger’s acceptance.”
EasyJet also issued a statement, saying: “easyJet strongly believes that it has always acted fairly and complied with all the ever-changing applicable laws. easyJet firmly disagrees with the AGCM’s findings and it considers the final decision absolutely groundless: for these reasons, easyJet will appeal against the decision.
“Throughout the pandemic, easyJet has continued to improve its customer policies from paying refunds more quickly to helping customers to self-serve more easily, as well as providing customers with more flexibility than ever before with our Protection Promise which enables customers to change their flights fee-free up to two hours before their flight and providing refunds when their trip is impacted by Government restrictions.
“We are processing our customer refunds within seven days in full compliance with the law.”