The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating whether British Airways (BA) and Ryanair have broken consumer law by failing to offer customers cash refunds for flights they couldn’t legally take. The regulator says it is concerned that both firms may have unfairly left people out of pocket.
Which? was the first to report the issue with some airlines not refunding over a year ago. In February 2021, we undertook research and found that 2.3 million people in the UK had not received their money back for flights they couldn’t take during the pandemic.
The CMA launched its investigation into the airline sector back in December. Now the regulator is looking to resolve the issue with Ryanair and BA, which may include seeking refunds for affected customers.
Flights still ran meaning passengers couldn’t get refunds
At varying times during the coronavirus crisis, the UK government banned all non-essential travel and made it illegal for people to travel overseas. However, plenty of flights still flew in order to transport passengers that had valid reasons for travelling.
The CMA investigation is only looking at cases where passengers were unable to ‘lawfully’ take flights. That means in instances where lockdown laws prevented non-essential travel, rather than guidance.
Under EU 261 regulations, passengers flying on an EU-based carrier or flying from a country in the EU, as well as the UK, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, are entitled to a full refund within seven days if their flight is cancelled by the airline. However these regulations don’t offer passengers any protection if their flight is not cancelled – which was the case for many.
This left consumers faced with a choice – rebook the flight for a later date which could cost extra (Ryanair and BA both offered this option), take a voucher (BA offered this option), or fly, going against restrictions.
BA and Ryanair now have the opportunity to respond to the CMA’s concerns.
The CMA said: ‘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.
‘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.’
BA and Ryanair respond
BA told us: ‘During this unprecedented crisis we have issued well over three million refunds and helped millions of our customers change their travel dates or destinations and we’re grateful to them for their ongoing support.
We continue to offer highly flexible booking policies at the same time as operating a vastly reduced schedule due to Government-imposed travel restrictions, and we have acted lawfully at all times.’
Ryanair said: ‘Ryanair welcomed the CMA’s update on its review of airline policies on refund requests made by UK consumers whose flights operated during periods of lockdown.
‘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.’