British Airways and Ryanair investigated over Covid refunds failure

British Airways and Ryanair are investigated by competitions watchdog over failure to offer refunds to customers for flights they could not take during Covid pandemic

  • Competition and Markets Authority is probing the airlines over the flights
  • British Airways offered vouchers or rebookings, while Ryanair offered rebook
  • BA were defiant and accused government of ‘punishing an industry on its knees’

British Airways and Ryanair are being investigated over whether they breached consumer laws by not offering refunds for flights customers could not take during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the companies should have issued refunds for the trips that had been scheduled during lockdown restrictions. 

Investigators will be writing to both airlines and will also look at whether refunds should have been given where flights took place but non-essential travel was banned due to lockdown restrictions.

Today BA were defiant and accused the government of ‘punishing an industry on its knees’, while Ryanair said it ‘welcomed’ the probe.

During the pandemic BA offered vouchers or rebookings, while Ryanair provided the option to rebook, the CMA added. Legally, customers are entitled to a cash refund within 14 days.

The watchdog said: ‘The CMA is concerned that, by failing to offer people their money back, both firms may have breached consumer law and left people unfairly out of pocket.

‘It is now seeking to resolve these concerns with the companies, which may include seeking refunds, or other redress, for affected customers.’ 

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said he did not want the public left out of pocket

BA said it had issued well over £3m of refunds during the pandemic to customers so far

Ryanair looked at refund requests on a case by case basis and has paid out in justified cases

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli added: ‘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.’

The agency added that it should not be assumed either airline has broken the law.

It comes after the CMA launched enforcement action against several package holiday firms, forcing them to agree to offer cash refunds to customers.

Last month, package holiday firms Teletext Holidays and Alpharooms agreed to hand back £7 million to customers who saw their holidays cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It follows similar agreements made by LoveHolidays, Lastminute.com, Virgin Holidays and Tui UK, after thousands of customers complained that the companies had failed to refund them for cancelled trips. 

BA staff talk to each other as passengers stand in a queue to check-in desks at T5 departures

Travellers at Heathrow airport in London arriving back from Portugal after it was on amber list

The travel sector has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic and has faced the most scrutiny from the CMA, which wrote to more than 100 firms reminding them of their responsibility to process all refunds within 14 days by law for any cancellations. 

A BA spokesperson said: ‘During this unprecedented crisis we have issued well over £3m 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.

‘It is incredible that the Government is seeking to punish further an industry that is on its knees, after prohibiting airlines from meaningful flying for well over a year now.

‘Any action taken against our industry will only serve to destabilise it, with potential consequences for jobs, business, connectivity and the UK economy.’

A spokesperson for Ryanair signalled it was not worried about the probe.

They added: ‘Ryanair today welcomed the UK 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.’ 

In a howl of protest, bosses tell of panic and job loss fears amid yet more chaos 

Andrew Flintham – TUI

Unlike other European countries and despite multiple requests, the Government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations.

We must see the methodology so we can help our customers and plan our operations accordingly. There are destinations around the world with little or no Covid-19 cases and good vaccination rates, so we need to understand why these remain on the amber list.

John Holland-Kaye – Heathrow

Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later, all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.

Everyone wants to protect public health, but the entire point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely. 

Britain is the worst performing economy in the G7, and in the week that the Prime Minister hosts G7 leaders to launch his Government’s vision of Global Britain, he’s sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.

Johan Lundgren – easyJet

When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan. 

Yet the Government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing people’s plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK.

This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world.

Brian Strutton – Balpa (Airline Pilots Association)

This decision is a total disaster for the already fragile travel industry and is likely to lead to further airline failures and many more job losses. 

Any shred of public confidence is in tatters and the traffic light system seems stuck on red.

Tim Alderslade – Airlines UK

This is no way to treat passengers. The Government promised a green watchlist to avoid this very scenario of people being stranded overseas – where is it?

This decision just adds to the belief that ministers don’t actually want international travel this summer, and want to cut off the UK from the rest of the world despite the success of the vaccination programme.

If that is the case they should be open and tell us rather than leading us and our customers further down this painful merry dance, and put in place longer-term support measures for an industry now on its knees.

Paul Charles – The PC Agency

They are basically putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs across aviation and the travel sector, and not showing any signs of helping the sector to recover.

They seem to want to continue to create an atmosphere of fear among travellers, which is totally at odds with other countries. There are several countries which meet the criteria to be on the green list, so this is clearly a politically-charged decision rather than one based on data.

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