On Wednesday, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it is investigating whether British Airways and Ryanair have broken consumer law by not offering refunds to customers for flights that could not be legally taken due to lockdown laws in the UK.
Instead of offering refund to customers who were barred from flying during COVID-19 lockdowns, IAG-owned British Airways gave passengers vouchers or rebooking options and Ryanair providing the option to rebook.
The CMA has opened enforcement cases against the airlines. The move comes at a despairing time for the airlines that have been choked by 15 months of the coronavirus restrictions.
The UK still discourages travel to most countries, causing concern that the travel industry is facing a second lost summer that will put airlines under further financial stress. CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said the difficult circumstances for airlines does not make it right for customers to be left unfairly out of pocket just for following the law.
Coscelli said in a statement, “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.”
Both Ryanair and British Airways say they have acted lawfully at all times. Ryanair welcomed the investigation and commented that it had paid refunds in justified cases after reviewing each case.
“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,” said British Airways by email, commenting that any action taken against the industry threatened to destabilise it.
British Airways said it issued over 3 million in refunds since the onset of the pandemic, while both airlines said they had offered customers flexible booking policies.
The CMA said it has written to both airlines, seeking a resolution that may include refunds or other forms of compensation for affected customers. If the airlines persistently fail to comply with directives, the CMA’s enforcement actions taken could lead to court proceedings.