As millions of grounded Ryanair passengers wait for refunds, one of the airline’s top executives has defended its policies.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Europe’s biggest budget carrier has cancelled more than 200,000 flights, affecting around 30 million journeys.
When an airline grounds a flight, European air passengers’ rights rules – known as EU261 – stipulate full cash refunds must be provided within a week of the departure date.
No carrier is believed to be meeting the deadline. But Ryanair has angered travellers by promising refunds within days, but then retracting the vow and seeking to persuade passengers to accept vouchers instead.
Steve Ashton from Dorset said his request for a £141 refund was made and acknowledged on 21 March.
“I was told my refund would be back on my card within five working days. Nothing arrived, then I received an email saying due to overwhelming requests my refund would be with me in five more days.
“Then 28 working days, and on the 29th day an email arrived saying I have been given a travel voucher. This is absolutely no good as through other issues I cannot fly anyway.
“I really am disgusted with the way Ryanair has been treating its customers over refunds.”
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said the number of cancelled flights had increased 10,000-fold from the pre-crisis levels.
As a result, handing money back is taking at least two months: “We are still processing refunds for those flights cancelled at the end of February.
“We’re still saying ‘Have a refund if that’s what you want, have a free move of the days of the flight if you want,’ and now we’re introducing a third option which is: have a voucher.
“I think it was slightly misinterpreted what we did at the start of the week. We are playing this with a very straight bat.”
“We’ve got a team that process these cancellations and these refunds. That team is now having to social distance across the office locations that they’re operating from. The capacity of refunds we’re able to produce has has been reduced while the volume has gone up by 10,000 times.
“Free moves and vouchers are fully automated, so the customer that clicks on a voucher or free move can do this and self-serve themselves on the Ryanair website.
“But taking a refund, that’s money going back out the door, it works across the customer service and the finance team so it takes manual intervention.
“If someone wants a refund, they’ll definitely get a refund. It’s just going to take a lot longer than we would like. It’s going to take months. There’s nothing we could do about that and we’re asking them to bear with us.”
A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said: “While we recognise these are unprecedented circumstances, it is important that consumers are aware of their rights and that the CAA will take the necessary action to protect consumers.
“With this in mind, we have published guidelines regarding airlines’ responsibilities on refunds and cancellations and we continue to actively monitor this situation as it develops.”