A class-action lawsuit that alleges that British Airways withheld cash refunds for cancelled flights as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has been given permission to proceed by a federal judge after BA attempted to have the case dismissed.
Like many airlines, British Airways cancelled thousands of flights en masse at the outset of the pandemic last year as travel restrictions took hold and people were ordered into lockdown.
The lawsuit alleges that BA broke its own conditions of carriage by coercing customers whose flights had been cancelled to accept a future travel voucher rather than the cash refund that they wanted and were entitled to.
Leading the claim, Stephen Ide who had bought roundtrip tickets from Boston to London for $701.46 filed the lawsuit in the state of New York after he initially accepted a future travel voucher only to then realise that the voucher had to be used within the next 12-months.
The suit claims British Airways coerced Mr Ide into accepting the voucher over a cash refund when it deliberately changed its website by removing the option to request a refund online and instead directed customers to telephone overburdened call center staff.
Mr Ide tried to call the BA call center but got disconnected because the lines were overwhelmed so he looked at BA’s website where he found the option to request a future travel voucher. Believing this to be the only option, Mr Ide requested the voucher.
Four other attempts to call British Airways went unanswered but when he finally got through to the agent he was told to file a complaint via the airline’s website – a process that was glitchy and ultimately didn’t allow Mr Ide to actually submit his complaint.
“BA’s wrongful practice of denying refunds has deprived consumers like Mr. Ide of the money they paid for cancelled travel during a time of crisis when they need access to those funds,” the lawsuit explains. “Very few BA customers succeed in obtaining the refunds for cancelled flights to which they have a contractual right,” the suit alleges.
“The members of the Class are so numerous that joinder is impracticable. The Class includes at least thousands of members. BA sells millions of tickets every year, and the recent cancellation of BA flights affected thousands of U.S. travelers.”
British Airways had sought to have the case dismissed arguing that the lawsuit was preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. United States District Judge Jesse Furman rejected that argument but agreed that the claim should be limited to compensatory damages only.
British Airways also succeeded in arguing that one of the plaintiffs should have his case dealt with through arbitration because he signed an arbitration clause when he booked his tickets through Expedia.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that at the height of the pandemic, airlines collectively owed passengers $35 billion in cancelled flight refunds. IATA had urged consumers to accept future travel vouchers to avoid some airlines from going bust.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.