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Is easyJet breaking consumer law on flight cancellations?

EasyJet is shirking its responsibility to reroute passengers and not telling them about their rights to compensation
EasyJet plane on runway

EasyJet customers are being let down by the airline which is cancelling flights at late notice and not informing them of their rights to be rerouted or to get compensation.

In recent weeks easyJet has cancelled thousands of flights including those from Belfast, Bristol, Gatwick, Glasgow, Luton, Manchester and Stansted. This has left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded and unhappy with the way they’ve been treated by the airline. 

Which? is now calling for an investigation into easyJet's actions by the Civil Aviation Authority. 

EasyJet cancellations and passenger chaos

Many easyJet cancellations have taken place at the last minute; once people have checked in or are waiting in the departure lounge, some were already on the flight, waiting to take off. 

Worse still, some passengers Which? spoke to aren’t being rerouted at the earliest opportunity or told about their rights to compensation. Passengers have been left feeling abandoned, having been left to arrange alternative flights home or hotels to stay in, leaving them significantly out of pocket. 

EasyJet is not the first airline Which? has found potentially breaking the law. Earlier this year we reported on BA cancelling flights at the last minute and failing to reroute passengers. It was also trying to dodge paying compensation.

At the time BA insisted it would only rebook passengers on its own flights or with carriers it has a commercial relationship with. This isn’t what the law states and we reported BA to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Which? is concerned there is a culture of ignoring passengers’ rights in the aviation industry. 

What are your rights on cancelled flights?

By law, airlines are required to help passengers if their flights are cancelled or delayed or if they're denied boarding because an airline has overbooked a flight. This includes a choice of a refund or rerouting.

The European Union’s EC261 regulation, which was transferred to British law after Brexit, outlines that airlines must offer to reroute passengers to their destination at the earliest opportunity. Importantly, this means offering them a flight on an alternative airline if that’s the best option.

If the cancellations are within 14 days of departure, or if the flight is delayed by at least two hours, passengers are entitled to compensation. 

That is unless the cancellations and delays are caused by unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances. These include bad weather or strikes by air traffic control for example. 

Most of the current delays and cancellations, which are caused by a shortage of the airline’s own staff, are not an extraordinary circumstance.

EasyJet failing to reroute passengers

Despite the rules on rerouting, we found easyJet directing passengers to the ‘Manage my booking’ section of its app and website which only give options to rebook on an easyJet flight. This included instances where the next available easyJet flight was several days later. 

Matthew Siggins was on holiday in Athens in April 2022 when he received a text and email from easyJet saying his flight home in two days had been cancelled. He was given three options:

  1. Switch to another flight, he was told he could search easyJet website and make changes to his booking. If there were no flights he was told easyJet would offer a hotel room if needed. 
  2. Choose a voucher for the full value of the flight to be used within 12 months.
  3. Request a refund.

Matthew opted for option three, requesting a refund as the next easyJet flight to Bristol was three days later. To get home he booked a flight from Athens to Corfu with a Greek airline, and then an easyJet flight from Corfu to Bristol, cutting his holiday short by about 10 hours. 

However legally easyJet was legally obliged to offer rerouting at the earliest opportunity. If this flight arrived at a different UK airport, easyJet was also required to pay for transfers back to Bristol airport.

Matthew wasn't told any of this by easyJet.

EasyJet told us: 'We clearly inform customers that if there are no easyJet alternative flights within 24 hours, they can book flights via an alternative carrier and we’ll reimburse them in full or they can choose a full refund. Although Mr Siggins chose a refund, because there were no easyJet flights available within 24 hours he is entitled to a flight with an alternative carrier and therefore we will reimburse him for the difference between the cost of his refund and alternative flight.'

No food, no water and no help from easyJet

Damian McConville also had a bad experience with easyJet. He and his wife were in the departure lounge at Gatwick  when they were told their flight to Belfast had been cancelled. 

Passengers were instructed to go to the easyJet app and rearrange their flights and book a hotel. Again, no mention was made of booking on alternative airlines. 

While they were able to reschedule the flight to the next morning there wasn’t an option to book a hotel, and by this time the customer services desk was closed.

Damian said: ‘We received no water or food. We are both completely appalled at the lack of help, support and information we received from easyJet staff. My wife was in tears, no one should be sleeping on the cold, tiled floor of an airport.'

At 3.06am they received another email saying their 8.25am flight had also been cancelled. Unable to find any staff to assist them they booked the next available easyJet flight at 6.30pm that evening. 

But worried after seeing a stream of further easyJet cancellations Damian told us: ‘We decided to take an earlier flight home with Ryanair as we needed to get home to our daughter and work the next day.'

Damian completed a form to claim back for his Ryanair flights. However this was rejected as he hadn’t cancelled the later easyJet flight, leaving him £350 out of pocket.

Which? informed Damian of his right to compensation (£220 for each flight that was cancelled totalling £880) and advised him to file a complaint with the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Aviation (Aviation ADR).

Damian concluded ‘I will not be flying with easyJet again. Absolutely shocking service.’ 

EasyJet told us: 'On this occasion, the correct policy has been followed as an alternative easyJet flight was available within 24 hours which they booked onto, however the couple chose to rebook and fly on another flight with a different airline which is why they were deemed ‘no-shows’. However, in light of their exceptional circumstances we are in contact with them to pay their expenses as a gesture of goodwill.'

EasyJet making compensation claims hard

Many of the easyJet passengers Which? spoke to told us they had not been advised of their right to compensation for cancelled or disrupted flights. Airlines are legally required to advise you of these rights. How much compensation you are due depends on the extent of your delay and the distance of the flight . 

Matthew should have been told he was entitled to compensation (£220) due to the late cancellation of his flight. He was unaware of this until he was told by Which?

Alexia and Niall from Haslemere in Surrey arrived at Budapest airport for their journey home to Gatwick to find their flight had been cancelled.

EasyJet had booked them onto an alternative easyJet flight earlier that morning, but by the time she was reading the email in her junk folder, the flight had already departed. 

The couple bought new flights at the airport with Wizz Air, departing around seven hours later than their original booking. The next day Alexia submitted an expense claim to easyJet for £305 to cover the cost of the new flights and food they bought at the airport. 

EasyJet took more than three weeks to respond, asking Alexia to resubmit her claim because of a technical error. In total she applied three times. 

Her third claim was rejected and the reason given was 'easyJet flights were available within 24 hours of your disrupted flight' even though this is unlikely to be a valid reason. 

Following responses from Which? and ITV, Alexia was finally refunded. However, easyJet still failed to tell Alexia she was entitled to £440 compensation under EC261 rules for the delay caused by the cancellation. 

She told Which?: 'I feel immensely let down by their customer service and the experience has been draining and frustrating. They make it as hard as possible for customers to claim the refunds that they’re entitled to and it’s impossible to get through to anyone. I expect people eventually give up and lose their money.'

EasyJet said: 'We clearly inform passengers of their EC261 rights via our Notice of Rights and Delays and Cancellations pages on our website, which are provided to customers should their flights be disrupted. Customers are able to submit an expenses claim easily via our expense form. We advise customers to provide itemised receipts to ensure these are processed as swiftly as possible.'

Airlines continually failing passengers

In 2020 Which? reported the UK's largest airlines to the Civil Aviation Authority for breaking the law over cancellation refunds. No action was taken against any airline. 

During the current travel chaos the regulator says that it is talking to the airlines affected but, again, has taken no action. 

The CAA has only once in almost 20 years applied to the courts for an enforcement order against an airline. That was in 2018, when Ryanair refused to compensate passengers whose flights were cancelled because of its own staff strikes. Although Ryanair lost in the High Court last year and at the Court of Appeal this year, the airline is appealing again and the case goes on.

Which? reported easyJet to the CAA sharing our latest findings. It told us: 'We thank Which? for its continued engagement regarding compensation. We will review its latest evidence thoroughly and will respond accordingly.

'We have regularly called for stronger consumer powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to take faster action when appropriate and bring our powers in line with other sectoral regulators.'