Ryanair and British Airways customers who say they are owed refunds because of Covid restrictions on travel could miss out because the competition regulator says the law is unclear.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has closed an investigation into the two airlines, saying there is a “lack of [legal] clarity”.
Instead of offering refunds, the carriers offered vouchers or rebooking.
This, the CMA believed, probably broke the law, and a probe was launched.
Although some flights went ahead, many customers were prevented from taking them because of restrictions. The CMA said the law needed clarifying.
“After a thorough examination of relevant law, and the evidence it had gathered during its investigation, the CMA has concluded that the law does not provide passengers with a sufficiently clear right to a refund in these unusual circumstances to justify continuing with the case,” the regulator said.
“Consumer protection law sets out that passengers are entitled to refunds when an airline cancels a flight, because the firm cannot provide its contracted services. However, it does not clearly cover whether people should be refunded when their flight goes ahead but they are legally prohibited from taking it.”
Global lockdown restrictions on air travel left many customers claiming ticket refunds and looking to the law for the protection.
But the CMA said prolonging the case through the courts “could not be justified given the length of time it would take”.
CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli has now called for a change in the law, adding he strongly believes people prevented from taking flights due to lockdown should get a full refund.
“Given the importance of this to many passengers who have unfairly lost out, we hope that the law in this area will be clarified,” he said.
The CMA’s statement highlighted it had already secured commitments to refund hundreds of millions of pounds for people whose holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic, including from LoveHolidays, Lastminute.com, Virgin Holidays, TUI UK, Sykes Cottages, and Vacation Rentals.
Both Ryanair and BA welcomed the CMA’s move and defended their actions.
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.”
And BA 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.”
By BBC NEWS