Trust in the travel industry has sunk to its lowest level in at least seven years, due to delays in issuing refunds for cancelled trips, a new survey suggests.
Only 22% of respondents to a poll by consumer group Which? said they trust airlines and holiday companies, while 34% declared that they do not trust them.
This is compared with 32% trusting them and only 23% not trusting them when the same question was asked in a survey conducted in February.
Some 2,095 people were questioned.
The latest figures represent the worst score recorded since Which? began collecting the data seven years ago.
Seven out of 10 people surveyed who had booked a holiday or flight prior to the coronavirus lockdown have had some or all of their plans cancelled, with 58% of this group still waiting for a refund.
Of those who have not yet had their money back, nearly half (47%) have been left more than £500 out of pocket, and 27% are owed more than £1,000.
Laws designed to protect consumers in the event of cancellations mean airline passengers should be refunded within seven days, while package holiday customers should get their money back within 14 days.
Many firms are offering vouchers or refund credit notes, which can be used to make a future booking, to ease the cashflow crisis they are suffering due to the collapse in demand for travel.
The Civil Aviation Authority has launched a review into how airlines are dealing with refund requests, while the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating holiday accommodation providers.
Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said the results of its survey are a “damning indictment” of the behaviour of many airlines and holiday companies in recent weeks.
He claimed that vouchers “may prove worthless if a company fails” and any further delay in paying refunds “risks permanent damage to trust in the travel industry”.
He added: “The regulator must come down strongly on any airlines found to be systemically denying or delaying refunds for cancelled flights and holidays, and the Government must urgently set out how it will support the industry and restore trust in the sector.”
A spokesman for trade body Airlines UK said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been “severe” and carriers continue to receive “a far higher volume of refund claims than normal”.
He insisted refunds are being paid but it is taking longer than normal due to the “sheer volume” and restrictions on working arrangements.
“Airlines are doing everything they can to work through the backlog as quickly as possible,” he added.
Travel trade organisation Abta said in a statement that many of its members have a “loyal customer base” who are being “incredibly supportive” by re-booking cancelled holidays or accepting a refund credit note.
It added that it is “virtually impossible” for refunds to be paid within 14 days in the current circumstances, but accepted that if requested, firms should make pay outs “as quickly as they are able to”.