Complaints from NI customers about flights more than triple in a year

By Michael McHugh, PA.

The number of complaints from Northern Ireland customers about airlines more than trebled between March and May, the Consumer Council has said.

Most involved difficulties in obtaining refunds for cancelled flights during the coronavirus pandemic.

The watchdog said it had persuaded companies to return more than £100,000 in refunds to consumers affected by cancellations.

Richard Williams, head of transport policy, said: "Since this crisis began we have been urging the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to explore, with the Government, all options that will balance the rights of airline passengers with the financial pressure on the airline industry."

Between March 1 and May 13 the consumer rights body received 615 contacts involving airlines, a 369% increase compared with the same period last year.

Of these, 475 involved difficulties in obtaining refunds for shelved flights.

Last week the EU issued new recommendations saying airline vouchers should guarantee a cash refund if unused after 12 months or if the airline goes bust.

Mr Williams added: "The Consumer Council believe that with these guarantees, vouchers would be more attractive to many consumers and could ease the financial pressure on airlines.

"However, the bottom line of a cash refund must remain an option for those consumers that need it."

He said the Covid-19 pandemic had caused an unprecedented crisis for the aviation industry and passengers.

"Whilst airlines are facing an uncertain future, we are seeing large numbers of consumers worried about losing money, as airlines struggle to fulfil their legal obligation to provide refunds.

"On May 13, the EU reiterated that consumers must get the cash refund they are entitled to and we welcome that the CAA is to investigate how well airlines are doing in refunding customers for cancelled flights."

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