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U.K. CAA Reviews Airline Passenger Refund Processes

Aircraft lining up for departure out of London Heathrow Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has commenced a review of airline customer refund processes in light of the COVID-19 crisis. With the unprecedented levels of flight cancellations due to the pandemic, U.K. airlines have been failing to comply with European regulatory deadlines on refunding passengers. The U.K. officially left the European Union earlier this year at 11 p.m. GMT on January 31 but is abiding by European rules during a transition period which ends on January 1, 2021.

The CAA review into the refunding of flight only airline bookings began in May, addressing concerns the traveling public raised with regards to the ability to receive a refund and the time it is taking for them to be processed. A statement from the authority said, “We support airlines offering vouchers and rebooking alternatives where it makes sense for the consumer, but we have reiterated to airlines that they must provide cash refunds to passengers who request this where a flight has been canceled. We do not expect airlines to systematically deny consumers their right to a refund, and our review is considering whether any further action needs to be taken to protect consumer rights.”

Eighteen airlines were contacted by the CAA and the authority confirmed that all eighteen cooperated fully with the review and were now issuing refunds. As a result of the information provided airlines were grouped into three categories: (1) acceptable performance; (2) those requiring transparency improvements; and (3) those requiring processing time improvements.

Airlines classified as category 2 were of most concern to the CAA as they were not issuing refunds at the time that the authority made contact and was not making passengers aware of the ability to receive a refund. These airlines have been given time to ensure that processes are clear and that they are ensuring the required regulations regarding refunds are being fully adhered to.

The Telegraph reported that Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel had responded to the CAA report with a statement, “This update from the regulator confirms what we have been highlighting to it for months – that airlines are continuing to disregard the law and withhold huge sums of money from their passengers during a time that has placed incredible stress on people’s financial and emotional wellbeing.”

Mr. Boland continued, “The time for monitoring and performance reviews has long passed. Airlines have been breaking the law on refunds for months, and to delay action for any longer goes against the regulator’s claims to be on the side of consumers. We need to see urgent enforcement action to hold airlines to account, set a higher standard for the months ahead, and demonstrate that there are real consequences to breaking the law on refunds.”

At this time no airlines in any category have been named by the CAA but the authority has announced there will be a more detailed update released later this month.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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