The competition regulator has launched an investigation into the refusal of airlines to offer customers cash refunds for flights they could not take because national, regional or local lockdown laws in the UK prevented them from travelling.
Which? was the first to report the issue back in May, when Wizzair restarted 12 flight routes, despite lockdown restrictions preventing customers travelling to the airport without breaking the law. It refused to offer refunds, and told customers they would have to pay €30 to €40 to amend their tickets. Which? reported Wizzair to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair and lockdown refunds
Almost all airlines in the UK followed Wizzair in refusing refunds when lockdowns prevented lawful travel. They stated that if the flight operated, customers weren’t due a refund.
This left many people who were caught in lockdowns in Wales in September and October, and in the national lockdown in England in November, out of pocket
Most airlines, such as British Airways, have offered customers the option of fee-free rebooking, although this still leaves them having to pay more if flights on the new dates are more expensive, or a voucher. Which? has reported that many vouchers have poor terms and conditions and short expiry dates, making them difficult to use and leaving passengers at risk of losing their money.
Ryanair passengers have faced standard terms and conditions, meaning they can only rebook fee-free if the T&Cs allow this. It’s flexible booking policy means most customers should be able to do this, but will still need to pay more if the fares for new dates are more expensive.
An EasyJet spokesperson told us: ‘We are aware of the CMA investigation and should we be contacted we will of course assist with their investigation as needed.’
‘During the recent UK lockdown, customers were able to obtain a refund even where their flight continued to operate. We operated a significantly reduced schedule during this period as a result of the restrictions, flying a small number of key domestic and international connections.’
What can passengers do about lockdown flight refunds?
The CMA investigation is only looking at cases where passengers were unable to ‘lawfully’ take flights. That means in instances where lowdown laws prevented non-essential travel, rather than guidance.
Different parts of the UK have taken different approaches to this at different stages of the pandemic. So while Wales has usually issued legal requirements, Scotland has more frequently used guidance. It can be confusing which is which, but is likely to be crucial to your refund right. Take England, for example. In November, under national restrictions, the public in England faced a lawful order not to undertake non-essential travel. However, now, under tier three restrictions, this has become guidance.
The CMA is still only investigating so there will be a period of months before it gives its judgement.
In the meantime, if you couldn’t take a flight because of a lawful order not to undertake non-essential travel and the airline refused to refund you, you should complain to the CMA.
We’ll update this story when we know more about what action the CMA is taking.