Airlines are giving out incorrect information on Covid testing requirements which could potentially see travellers turned away from flights, a watchdog has warned.
Consumer group Which? said a mystery shopping exercise found most agents for five major UK airlines were unable to provide clear, consistent or accurate answers when it came to Covid testing.
Most agents for British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Tui were unable to provide clear information regarding Covid testing.
In nearly half of the calls, the passenger would have been turned away from their flight if they had followed the information provided by the agent.
The UK and devolved governments set the rules on Covid testing for travellers returning to the UK. Foreign governments in other countries determine the rules for UK passengers’ arrivals.
When Which? contacted a number of major UK airports, all confirmed that it is up to airlines’ ground staff to enforce these rules and decide if someone should be allowed on a flight.
All the airlines Which? contacted outlined that it is a passenger’s responsibility to ensure they meet the requirements for boarding.
They said that if they do not, then passengers can be turned away from their flight with no recourse to a refund.
Which? Posed as passengers and phoned the customer service lines for BA, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Tui three times each. They asked the same four questions about testing requirements when flying to mainland Portugal.
The mystery shoppers were given incorrect or contradictory information in seven of the 15 calls.
In four of the calls – two to BA and two to Tui – agents provided information that would have seen passengers turned away from their flight.
Research found that only two agents – one from Jet2 and one from Tui – were able to answer all the questions correctly.
Which? said it strongly advises travellers against contacting their airline for Covid-19 travel advice, and to instead consult the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website.
'Passengers could be left out of pocket for the entire cost of their flight or holiday'
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “When airlines are responsible for deciding whether a passenger can board their flight or not, it’s essential that their staff have a thorough and accurate understanding of the rules. Otherwise, passengers could be left out of pocket for the entire cost of their flight or holiday if they follow the wrong advice.
“The most reliable place to look for information on testing requirements for travel to your destination is the FCDO’s website – here you’ll find the most up-to-date information regarding entry requirements, traffic light changes, and other critical information before you travel.”
A British Airways spokesman said: “Our colleagues are trained to advise our customers that they are required to check they meet the entry and testing requirements of the country they’re visiting. We also provide information in emails and on ba.com.
“While we don’t believe the issues raised in Which?’s three calls are representative of the hundreds of thousands we handle, we’ve reminded colleagues to keep referring customers to gov.uk to avoid unintentional confusion.”
An easyJet spokeswoman said: “We continually review the information we equip our agents with and provide them with ongoing and extensive training, and so we continue with this to ensure that agents are providing accurate and consistent advice to customers.
“However, we always remind customers that ultimately it is their responsibility to ensure they meet entry requirements and will continue to advise customers to check the local government requirements prior to departure.”
A Jet2 spokeswoman said: “Our contact centre teams are dealing with an unprecedented number of inquiries, whilst at the same time dealing with ever-changing travel advice from the UK Government, which often comes with little or no notice.
“We would like to thank Which? for bringing this to our attention. Although we provide consistent messaging for our teams to use, alongside regular training, we will take steps to address this feedback.”
A Ryanair spokesman said: “This is more fake news from Which? All Covid-19 travel requirements are fully set out on Ryanair’s website, and are emailed to all passengers 24 hours prior to travel. We do not expect our call centre agents to be experts on the multiple Covid travel restrictions, which apply across 40 different countries.”
Tui said: “This research highlights the complexity of frequently changing entry and testing requirements.
“We always strive to provide the best service possible for our customers, and our agents are trained and updated with new information on an ongoing basis.
“Extra training to support fight-only queries is being provided, and, to help customers further, detailed and current entry requirement information is available on our dedicated Covid hub.”