Airlines’ Failure to Offer Covid Refunds Investigated

Thursday, 17 Dec 2020

Airlines’ Failure to Offer Covid Refunds Investigated

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has started the process of investigating airlines that failed to offer cash refunds to travellers who were unable to take their flights because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move follows reports that airlines may have breached consumers’ rights by not issuing cash refunds in cases where travel restrictions made it illegal for people to board their flight.

During the November lockdown in England, consumers were unable to travel for non-essential purposes either in the UK or abroad. Despite this, flights often proceeded and instead of offering cash refunds airlines opted to issue vouchers or allow passengers to amend their booking to a later date.

Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary said during this lockdown phase that customers would not be offered cash refunds if their flight was still operating but they could not travel. “There won’t be refunds on flights that are operating and travelling,” said O’Leary.

The CMA said they recognized the severe financial pressure facing airlines but that did not mean people should be “left unfairly out of pocket”. Consumer group Which? estimates the refund issue has affected “hundreds of thousands of people”.

Further comments from the CMA detail that a careful analysis of the evidence will be conducted to determine if any airlines breached consumers’ legal rights “by refusing people cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.”

A number of airlines will receive a letter from the authority asking for an explanation about their approaches to refunds for consumers prevented from flying during the lockdown period. The CMA has not disclosed which airlines it will be contacting but that after a careful review of the evidence they would decide whether to launch enforcement action.

Which? states they expect “hundreds of thousands of people who were simply following government rules” to be given the option of a refund following the investigation. 

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