Law unclear on COVID flight refunds: UK closes probe into BA, Ryanair
Passengers may be left disappointed after the UK competition authority closed an investigation into British Airways and Ryanair over failing to offer refunds for flights during COVID-19 lockdown.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) started a probe in June 2021 over concerns that the two carriers may have broken the law by not offering refunds for flights that customers were not legally allowed to take during lockdown periods, when travel was banned. British Airways offered customers vouchers or rebooking, while Ryanair provided a rebooking option.
However, the CMA said on October 7, 2021, that the law does not provide passengers with a clear right to refund in these circumstances, and therefore it cannot justify continuing the investigation.
“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,” Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, stated.
“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,” Coscelli explained.
Prohibited from flying
The CMA said the law states passengers are entitled to refunds when an airline cancels a flight, because the firm cannot deliver the service it was contracted to provide. On the other hand, it does not set out whether passengers should be refunded if the flight goes ahead, but the traveler is legally prohibited from flying.
Ryanair welcomed the CMA’s decision to close the investigation.
“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,” the airline said in a statement.
British Airways said it had acted in accordance with the law.
“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,” the flag carrier said in a statement to AeroTime.
“We're grateful for their support at a time when we've been navigating dynamic and fast-changing travel restrictions to maintain a limited schedule that ensured vital air connections for travellers and cargo throughout the pandemic.”
The CMA added it hoped the law could be clarified in the future. The authority has managed to get refunds for customers in other sectors of the travel industry, for package vacations or weddings, for example, where a different set of laws applies. Those businesses were not allowed to continue operating during lockdown, whereas airlines could continue flights.
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