Airlines ‘potentially breaking the law’ by mistreating passengers for flight cancellations

The consumer group Which? alleges that airlines flying to and from the UK are “potentially breaking the law with unfair and misleading terms and conditions”.

In a report titled “Final Boarding Call,” the organization calls for a major overhaul of travel industry rules to ensure operators are held accountable when they mistreat passengers.

Since international travel restrictions were lifted for UK arrivals, airlines have struggled to keep up with demand – with up to 200 flight cancellations in a few days.

The report says that after “the chaotic start to the 2022 holiday season”, some airlines are “apparently ignoring their legal obligations to help passengers reroute and rebook, while other tourists struggle to get refunds”.

He cites an example of cancellation emails and letters issued by BA to passengers following an IT failure in April 2022 that “make no mention of compensation rights”.

What? says: “BA is required by law to offer passengers whose flights have canceled rerouting to their destination at ‘first opportunity’.

“Crucially, this includes booking them with other airlines when necessary. We have seen some evidence of BA informing their customers that they will only rebook flights for them on their own jets or with carriers they have a business relationship with, even when this is not available for several days.”

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We always seek to comply with our legal obligations and when a customer’s flight is canceled or interrupted we provide the relevant information to fully inform them of their rights.”

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy for Which?, said that “consumer rights and laws are meaningless if they are not enforced. Our analysis shows that some airlines are routinely ignoring their legal obligations and robbing their customers, with little fear of facing any consequences.

“Passengers have suffered for a long time due to lack of responsibility and poor enforcement of the rules.

“The immense disruption of the last few weeks could be a turning point and used as a springboard to reform the industry to your advantage.

“The government must take steps to restore consumer confidence in travel. This should start with a consumer-focused code of conduct that all airlines must adhere to and stronger powers for the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority]including the ability to fine operators directly when they break the rules.”

A CAA spokesperson said: “We thank Which? for their ongoing involvement in relation to the terms of the contract and airlines. We will thoroughly review your most recent evidence and respond accordingly.

“We regularly demand stronger consumer powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to act more quickly when appropriate and align our powers with other sectoral regulators.”

The witch? The report also calls on the Department of Transport (DfT) to abandon plans to reduce the amount of compensation passengers can expect when domestic flights are severely disrupted.

“We are concerned that, if implemented, these changes would remove an important deterrent against bad business practices,” the organization says.

“For a flight between London and Edinburgh with a total capacity of 180 passengers, an airline would have to pay up to £39,600 for delays of three hours or more under current rules. Under the government’s proposed scheme, the maximum payout is reduced to just £7,920.”

DfT says it is consulting on “creating a fairer compensation model for when UK domestic flights are delayed”.

He says: “Based on the current compensation model used by rail and ferry customers, there will be a significant change from the current ‘set rate’ model.

“Passengers could claim compensation based on the length of the flight delay and tied to the cost of travel, rather than having to meet a certain threshold – which is currently a three-hour delay.”

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