British Airways and Ryanair, who refused customers a refund for flights they could not legally take during periods of national lockdown – when we were ordered to stay in our house or local area – won’t face action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The CMA launched an investigation into whether consumer law had been broken after Which? reported both Ryanair and British Airways to the regulator.
But it has now concluded the probe and won’t take further action because of a ‘lack of clarity’ in the law, and the time it would take to conclude any court action against the airlines.
British Airways and Ryanair refusing refunds
British Airways and Ryanair claimed they weren’t legally responsible for refunding customers for flights that continued to operate, even if those customers weren’t legally allowed to board the plane.
Instead British Airways offered vouchers. Ryanair waived its rebooking fee – although customers still had to pay for the difference in cost of the fare when new dates were more expensive. This was often significant.
BA and Ryanair were alone amongst the UK’s largest carriers in refusing refunds. Jet2 customers were able to claim a refund, and while EasyJet initially refused refunds in some lockdowns it subsequently changed this approach.
Earlier this year Which? estimated over two million had not received money back for flights they couldn’t take during the pandemic.
What now for Ryanair and British Airways customers?
The CMA has not said that customers are not entitled to a refund. It has said the law is not sufficiently clear and it won’t take the airlines to court.
A spokesperson said:
‘We strongly believe people who are legally prevented from taking flights due to lockdown laws should be offered a full refund and we launched this investigation in the hope that we would be able to secure a positive outcome for consumers.’
‘However, after considering the relevant law and gathering evidence in our investigation, we have concluded that the length of time that would be required to take this case through the courts, and the uncertain outcome, can no longer justify the further expense of public money.’
That does not preclude Ryanair or British Airways customers from taking the airlines to court over their refusal to issue refunds.
In response to the CMA’s decision British Airways said: “During this unprecedented crisis we have acted lawfully at all times, issuing nearly 4 million refunds and offering highly flexible booking policies enabling millions of our customers to change their travel dates or destinations.”
Ryanair said “We operated a limited schedule during UK lockdowns for customers who travelled for essential reasons. Passengers had the option to change their bookings without paying the flight change fee and many availed of this option.”