Major airlines have been accused of giving out inaccurate information about COVID testing requirements – with a watchdog warning this could result in passengers being turned away from flights.
A mystery shopping exercise by Which? found agents for British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Tui were mostly unable to provide clear, consistent or accurate answers.
If a passenger had followed the advice they were given in almost half of the calls performed, they would have been barred from boarding and unable to get a refund.
Posing as travellers, Which? contacted each of these airlines three times – asking the same four questions about testing requirements ahead of a journey to mainland Portugal.
At the time the calls were performed, passengers needed to take a test, regardless of whether they were vaccinated or had been previously infected.
Only PCR tests were being accepted for entry, and only children under the age of two were exempt.
The watchdog’s mystery shoppers were given incorrect or contradictory advice in seven of the 15 calls they performed.
Two BA and two Tui agents gave details that would have seen passengers turned away from their flights.
Some representatives told the undercover researchers that a test was not required if they were vaccinated, and one said children under 12 were exempt.
Only two agents – one from Jet2 and one from Tui – answered all four questions correctly.
In some cases, following the airline’s advice may have been enough to get on board the plane, only for the passenger to be denied entry into their destination country.
While the UK is responsible for setting the rules on testing people returning home, it is up to foreign governments to set guidelines for arrivals.
Six agents that Which? spoke to – two from British Airways, two from easyJet, one from Jet2 and one from Ryanair – also said they had never heard of lateral flow tests.
The watchdog is now urging travellers to get travel advice and information on testing requirements from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and not from their airline.
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 enquiries, 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.”
And 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 flight-only queries is being provided, and, to help customers further, detailed and current entry requirement information is available on our dedicated COVID hub.”