An umbrella group of consumer watchdogs across Europe is calling for a “broad investigation” into “unfair practices” by airlines dealing with refunds.

BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, said: “Following thousands of complaints from upset airline passengers, BEUC – and 11 of its member organisations – have reported some major airlines to national consumer protection authorities and the European Commission for breaching passenger rights and for using unfair commercial practices.

“BEUC and its members are also asking for a broad investigation of the sector regarding wide-spread unfair practices during the last few months.”

British watchdog Which? is one of the member organisations which has reported the airlines. It is calling on the Civil Aviation Authority to take “urgent enforcement action” against airlines failing to pay refunds.

BEUC said some of Europe’s biggest airlines have routinely failed to reimburse passengers and to provide clear and complete information to passengers about their rights since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Whilst there have been unfair practices across the industry, Aegean, Air France, EasyJet, KLM, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP Portugal, Transavia are amongst the highest-ranking airlines in terms of the number of consumer complaints made to our members during the crisis,” he said.

“Though we acknowledge that the pandemic has led to big challenges for the travel industry, providing wrong information and misleading consumers about their rights is not acceptable.

“The top three most-complained about practices according to our members are: 1) forcing consumers to accept vouchers instead of monetary refunds for cancelled flights; 2) failing to provide information to consumers on their rights to a refund; 3) providing misleading information to consumers on their rights.”

Monique Goyens, BEUC director-general, said: “Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, many airlines have been flouting passenger rights.

“They have been denying passengers their right to a refund for cancelled flights and misleading passengers by providing them incorrect, partial or unclear information about their rights. Our members have been inundated with thousands of complaints.

“Strong enforcement measures by national authorities against airlines are overdue, to ensure that passenger rights are respected also in times of crisis.

“The sheer volume of consumer complaints about airlines throughout Europe since the start of the pandemic clearly demonstrates the widespread character of the infringements.

“That is why we want to see a thorough, industry-wide investigation into these practices. The recurrent problems faced by travellers also highlights the urgent need for improvement of the enforcement of air passenger rights and changes to airlines’ business models”.