The UK’s competition watchdog has started enforcement action against British Airways and Ryanair for refusing to refund customers for flights they couldn’t take during the pandemic. The legal threat applies to periods during the pandemic when lockdown was in effect and it was illegal for customers to fly abroad even though the airline’s continued to operate flights.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is investigating whether British Airways and Ryanair breached consumer law by denying refunds and instead offering customers a travel voucher or rebooking their flights to an alternative date.
“While we understand that airlines have had a tough time during the pandemic, people should not be left unfairly out of pocket for following the law,” explained Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.
“Customers booked these flights in good faith and were legally unable to take them due to circumstances entirely outside of their control. We believe these people should have been offered their money back,” Coscelli continued.
British Airways reacted with anger to the news that it might be taken to court over the issue with a spokesperson for the airline saying the government was “seeking to punish further an industry that is on its knees”.
“Any action taken against our industry will only serve to destabilise it, with potential consequences for jobs, business, connectivity and the UK economy.,” the Heathrow-based airline said. A spokesperson pointed out that it had provided full refunds to around three million customers and offered voucher and rebooking options to millions more.
Ryanair said it welcomed the CMA’s announcement: “Ryanair has approached such refund requests on a case by case basis and has paid refunds in justified cases.”
“Since June 2020, all our customers have also had the ability to rebook their flights without paying a change fee and millions of our UK customers have availed of this option.”
The CMA said it would attempt to resolve its concerns directly with the two airlines before taking further action. This could include offering refunds to affected customers or ‘other redress”.
British Airways is facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States over what has been described as its attempts to “coerce” customers into accepting travel vouchers over a full refund. At the height of the pandemic, British Airways removed the option for customers to request a refund via its website and instead directed consumers to call overworked call centres.
The lawsuit claims British Airways deliberately removed the refund options from its website in an attempt to mislead customers into thinking they weren’t entitled to a refund.
Photo Credit: British Airways
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.