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Airlines that cancel flights must pay to get passengers home

Crackdown on carriers that refuse to cover cost of ticket with rival – but they'll get six months to comply

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is writing to the major airlines today reminding them they have to pay to get passengers to their destination on the next available flight, even if it’s with another carrier. 

EU law says that passengers with cancelled flights are entitled to: ‘re-routing under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity.’

However, when Ryanair cancelled flights last year, boss Michael O’Leary told the press: ‘We will not pay for flights on other airlines. We can’t afford to pay the high costs of our competitors.’

It was only after a campaign by Which? and enforcement action from the CAA that Ryanair did relent and agree to abide by the EU ruling.

Read the results of our best and worst airlines survey to see how passengers rated Ryanair, versus easyJet, Jet2 and other budget carriers.

Problems for the airlines

In its open letter to the main UK carriers, the CAA does admit that a strict interpretation of the law could cause airlines problems. It says that they could be put in the position of having to pay for a passenger to fly home with another airline even if, ‘the affected passengers would arrive at their destination only slightly earlier than if the airline re-routed the passengers on its own services.’

However, it says that, while courts may not enforce such a strict interpretation of the ruling, airlines are required to re-route passengers on the same day as their original flight if that’s possible. If that is not possible they should use other carriers, alternative routes, airports or means of travel.

Justice delayed

Despite the relevant law having been passed in 2004, the CAA is giving the airlines a further six months to comply before it takes enforcement action. It says that the airlines may need to make ‘adjustments to their policies, procedures, systems and passenger information,’ to comply with its interpretation of the law. It’s given them until 30 June 2019 to do this.

Even then it has promised to be lenient in some circumstances. It says ‘If an airline is not compliant within this six-month period, we would expect it to be able to demonstrate that it had taken all reasonable steps to achieve compliance as quickly as possible thereafter.’

However, the law is clear and passengers should demand to be flown home on an alternative carrier, if no other reasonable route is available.

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