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Airlines accused of breaking law with rip-off ‘no-show’ clauses

British Airways, Virgin, KLM and other major airlines cancelling passengers' return tickets

Which? has written to several major airlines warning them that the ‘no-show clauses’ in their terms and conditions are potentially breaking consumer law. 

The clauses mean passengers who miss an outbound flight can be considered a ‘no show’. All their connecting or return flights are then cancelled, typically with no refund given, and their seats can be resold – potentially allowing the airlines to double their money.

Passengers often only find out their tickets have been cancelled when they arrive at the airport and are forced to buy another seat at a vastly inflated price, or pay a hefty fine – up to €3,000 in some cases – to use their original ticket.

British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic all include the clauses in their terms and conditions. From the end of December 2018, Which? will not recommend carriers that have a ‘no-show’ clause. See our annual survey to compare the best and worst airlines.

Passengers penalised

One holidaymaker, Nicola Brookes, who contacted Which? told how she was forced to pay Virgin Atlantic an extra £1,354 to get home from New York – more than the £1,284 price of her original return flight – after she missed a flight from London and the airline imposed its no-show clause. While this was in accordance with the terms and conditions, we think this is unfair. We have asked Virgin Atlantic to comment and are waiting for its reply.

Another couple, Paul Sharp and Jill Hempstead, missed their British Airways flight from Gatwick to Pisa after getting stuck for two hours in M25 traffic. They informed BA that they wouldn’t make the flight, and BA assured them that the ticket for the return leg would remain valid. But at the end of their holiday they found the ticket had been cancelled. In response, BA told us that it doesn’t cancel return flights, as long as passengers let it know that they’ve missed their outbound flight. They blamed  human error in this case. Paul and Jill ended up having to pay for another flight to get them home.

Letters to British Airways and Virgin

Of the 10 airlines most used by Which? members, four include a no-show clause in their terms and conditions – British Airways, Emirates, Flybe and Virgin Atlantic.

Easyjet, Jet2, Norwegian, Ryanair and Tui have no such clause. Thomas Cook has told us that it used to have a no-show clause but it has now been scrapped. Which? Recommended Provider Aurigny, from the Channel Islands, has also said that it will scrap the clause.

Which? is now writing to the remaining four airlines – as well as KLM, Air France, Swiss, Qatar and Singapore Airlines – informing them that Which? believes the practice is in breach of both the Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive.

European consumer rights campaign

Which?’s legal letters are part of a joint action with consumer groups in eight countries across Europe.

Watchdogs in Austria and Greece are today announcing court action against Dutch airline KLM, which along with its partner airline Air France, has one of the harshest no-show clauses. The two airlines are already involved in a legal battle with Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop.

Customers in the UK have also successfully challenged the clauses. In 2017 a passenger won compensation from Iberia – which shares a parent company with BA – after a judge ruled the no-show clause was unfair. The passenger had intended to travel and not even a partial refund was offered. Spain’s Supreme Court also ruled against no-show clauses earlier this year.

Some airlines claim these practices are necessary in order to stop ‘tariff abuse’ – when passengers buy return tickets that are cheaper than a single flight. Others say that their clauses are less detrimental to passengers than some of their rivals. Flybe says that flights are not cancelled and there is no additional charge, as long as passengers inform them when they missed an outbound flight. Singapore also told us that it will refund return tickets if they are informed that a passenger has missed the outbound flight.

Which? says

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said:

‘Missing a flight because you’re stuck in traffic or on a delayed train is frustrating enough, but for the airline to then turn around and say your return journey is cancelled as well is completely unfair and unjustified.

‘We don’t think there’s any good reason for a ‘no-show clause’ to exist – it only works in favour of the airline. It should be removed immediately by airlines, who need to show more respect for their passengers.’

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