Legal Action Threatened As Virgin Atlantic Faces Refund Delays

UK long-haul airline Virgin Atlantic is facing potential enforcement action over delays to customer refunds. Following a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) review released yesterday, the airline was found to be the worst for delayed refunds, with some taking up to 120 days to process. The CAA has given Virgin until October to turn things around but says it has not ruled out the use of formal enforcement powers if necessary.

Virgin Atlantic resumes srevice
Virgin Atlantic could face enforcement action if it doesn’t improve its refund backlog. Photo: Virgin

Virgin customers waiting up to 120 days

Virgin Atlantic has hit another bump in the road to recovery as it is revealed to be the only UK airline to be potentially facing enforcement action over the waiting times customers are facing when seeking refunds for canceled flights. The BBC reports that consumers have been waiting up to 120 days for a refund, and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is ‘not satisfied’ with progress.

The CAA has reportedly demanded that Virgin takes immediate action to cut the waiting times for refund processing and warns that it could be in breach of consumer law if it does not. In a statement issued yesterday, Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive of the CAA said,

“Although we have taken into account the serious operational challenges many airlines have faced, we have been clear that customers cannot be let down, and that airlines must pay refunds as soon as possible.

“There is still work to do. We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

Virgin Atlantic
Customers have been waiting for up to four months for refunds to be processed. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

This follows an extensive review by the CAA into the response to COVID related disruption by airlines in the UK. The report found that some airlines were not providing cash refunds, and only offering vouchers, while others were making it unduly difficult for passengers to get in touch to request a refund.

US airlines and Jet2 are doing the best

Alongside issues with transparency and ease of contacting, the CAA discovered that many airlines had huge backlogs of refund claims. Passengers were facing long waiting times to collect their refunds, although some airlines were performing better than others.

The three best performing airlines in terms of their backlog of refund requests were revealed to be American Airlines, Jet2, and United Airlines. The CAA said that all these airlines were,

“…[the] only three airlines that our review has identified as having been consistently processing cash refunds quickly and as having only a small backlog of refund requests.”

United 787
United Airlines was shown to be dealing well with its refund backlog. Photo: United Airlines

Those who were not providing cash refunds were identified to be Air Canada, Air Transat, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines and WestJet. However, the CAA says that these airlines have now changed their practices and have agreed to offer passengers cash refunds.

Those who had a large backlog of refunds to process, aside from Virgin Atlantic, were easyJet, Emirates, Loganair, Ryanair, and TUI. The CAA said,

“We have required those airlines to provide commitments to clear the backlog and to reduce the waiting time for processing refunds. We have also required them to provide regular updates on progress.”

Emirates, Airbus A380, London
Middle East carrier Emirates was also struggling to provide timely refunds. Photo: Emirates

For Virgin Atlantic, the CAA said that it had a ‘sizeable backlog’ of refunds to process. It noted that, initially, refunds were taking around 60 days to process. However, this had become significantly worse and was now taking up to 120 days to refund customers. It has demanded that Virgin takes a stepped approach to minimize refund delays, aiming for 80 days in August, 60 days in September, and 30 days by October. It further said,

“We will continue to work with Virgin Atlantic and push them for further improvements to the timescales. Given the extended timescales even in September and October, we will be monitoring Virgin’s performance particularly closely and will consider the use of formal enforcement powers if necessary.”

Have you struggled to get refunds from Virgin Atlantic or any other airline? Let us know about your experience in the comments.