British Airways and EasyJet have been accused of flouting European Union guidance by refusing to refund unused travel vouchers for flights cancelled during the Covid crisis.

The European Commission issued the guidance in May recommending that airlines automatically refund any unused vouchers 14 days after they expire. However, it is not a legal requirement.

While Ryanair says its vouchers can be refunded at any time, BA and Easyjet insist that once issued, their vouchers can not be exchanged for cash, according to consumer group Which?.

That means passengers could be left hundreds of pounds out of pocket if they do not use them by the time they expire, Which? warned.

BA and EasyJet have also said that they will not be offering refunds for flights that operate as scheduled, meaning many passengers will only have the option of rebooking their flight to a later date if they cannot fly due to the latest lockdown in England.

Ryanair has also said it will not offer refunds for flights that are not cancelled while passengers are in lockdown.

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “As we head into a winter that is bound to bring more flight cancellations, it’s extremely concerning to see the UK’s biggest airlines disregarding European guidance and letting their passengers down when it comes to their refund rights.

“BA and Easyjet must immediately make it clear that passengers will not face losing their money if they are unable to use a voucher, while all airlines should be offering cash refunds to passengers prevented from travelling by lockdown laws.”

A BA spokesperson said: “We do not auto-issue vouchers, they can only be issued when a customer has requested them by filling out the form. Our website is clear that when filling out the form it is to apply for vouchers.

“Customers are always entitled to a cash refund if their flight has been cancelled, and must call us to do this, which is clearly displayed on our website. Customers have up to a year after their flight was due to operate to get in touch with us for a cash refund – and we have processed over 2.1 million cash refunds to date.

“If a customer uses a voucher to make a new booking which is then subsequently cancelled by us, they would be entitled to choose either a cash refund (if the original booking was paid for in cash), or a voucher in a similar way as before.”

Easyjet said: “For passengers who have chosen a voucher as compensation for their cancelled flight, we would only reverse this and offer a refund in exceptional circumstances as a gesture of goodwill if the customer’s circumstances justify it (eg. a school group no longer able to re-travel).”