Hundreds of thousands of Britons barred from flying during the second lockdown are to be denied refunds by some of Europe's biggest airlines.
Customers with British Airways, Ryanair and Wizz Air will not get their money back because although the guidance prevents passengers with a booking from taking non-essential journeys, the carriers themselves do not have to cancel their scheduled flights.
Instead, travellers will be offered credit vouchers or the option to change flights fee-free.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair said: “If a flight is operating then no, we will not be offering refunds.”
A spokesman for British Airways said customers would only be entitled to a refund if their flight is cancelled or if it is part of a packaged holiday.
"Our flights will continue to operate as planned until Thursday and in the coming days we will be in touch with our customers whose flights are cancelled to explain how to apply for a refund. We know many customers now need to change their bookings and we’re encouraging them to do so [online], where they can also request a voucher for future travel if their flight continues to operate", BA added.
Wizz Air said that a fee of up to €40 (£36) per booking would still be applicable for rearranging or cancelling flights on basic fares.
It came as EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said the need for an industry bailout “has never been more urgent” and the Luton-based carrier prepared to cancel swathes of flights into the UK.
Mr Lundgren said: “It is likely that much of the UK touching schedule will be cancelled during lockdown.
“We will be advising customers who are booked to travel over the next month of their options with a view to assisting customers to return to the country in the coming days.
“Given the steps the Government has taken, which essentially prevents air travel in the UK, our call for sector specific support has never been more urgent.”
Ryanair posted a €197m (£178m) pre-tax loss in the six months to September, compared with more than €1.1bn in profit during the same period last year.
The budget carrier expects to suffer record losses in the following half-year as winter demand is hammered by the return of lockdown restrictions across the Continent.
Mr O’Leary said: “Lockdowns are a failure. They should be avoided wherever possible. They’re only useful if you use the time to get your testing and tracing system in place.”
Travellers were angered by the response of airlines to the crisis earlier this year after services were cancelled as the first lockdown was imposed.
Regulators have threatened to take airlines such as Virgin Atlantic to court after customers were forced to wait an “unreasonably long time” to be refunded. Under strict rules, airline customers are only entitled to a refund for flights cancelled by the operator.
Flights bought alongside holidays are subject to different “packaged holiday” rules, but customers are still entitled to reimbursment.
Mr O’Leary said Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline, had paid out €1.5bn in refunds during the pandemic. Airlines have slashed tens of thousands of jobs as they try to weather the crisis and avoid running out of cash.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson was criticised for his handling of the travel ban announcement on Saturday.
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of the group that owns Manchester and London Stansted airports, said he found out about the news on social media.
He said: “Twitter is not the place where you want to find out that the Government is effectively shutting down the business you run, but that’s what happened to the leaders of the UK aviation industry on Saturday.
“The Government’s decision to ban people from travelling abroad came without warning and with no discussion with the industry about the support it will receive to help it get through this period.
“The fact this development was not deemed worthy of mention in the PM’s address is symbolic of the way Government has neglected UK aviation and the role it plays our economy from day one of this pandemic.
“They do not appear to appreciate its strategic value, in terms of jobs and economic activity, in a way that other countries have. And it is clear they have not understood, or even tried to understand, what the impact of this latest decision will be, let alone put in place measures to help the industry cope with the tough times ahead.”
British Airways’ owner IAG posted a €6.2bn (£5.6bn) loss in the first nine months of the year. New boss Luis Gallego has urged governments across Europe to introduce a “reliable and affordable” testing regime.