British Airways and Ryanair face probe on Covid refunds

British Airways and Ryanair face probe on Covid refunds
‘People should not be left unfairly out of pocket for following the law’ – Andrea Coscelli, CEO, Competition and Markets Authority

British Airways and Ryanair could be forced to refund passengers who could not fly due to lockdown rules.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the practices of the two giant airlines during stretches of lockdown.

All but essential travel has been banned for several periods – including an unprecedented 19-week prohibition on going abroad that ended on 17 May 2021.

Announcing the probe, the CMA said: “During periods of lockdown across the UK, British Airways and Ryanair refused to give refunds to people that were lawfully unable to fly, with British Airways offering vouchers or rebooking and Ryanair providing the option to rebook.”

Under air passengers’ rights rules, if an airlines operates a flight there is no legal obligation to refund a traveller who cannot travel. According to this legislation, BA and Ryanair went further than the law required in offering rebooking or vouchers.

British Airways insists: “We have acted lawfully at all times.”

But the CMA believes wider consumer law means that if government action prevents a customer taking up a service, the contract should be regarded as “frustrated” – with a refund due.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “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 investigation is targeted at the Irish airline’s main operation, Ryanair DAC; British Airways plc; and its subsidiary, BA CityFlyer Ltd.

The CMA notes: “It should not be assumed at this stage that any of the airlines have breached the law. Ultimately, only a court can decide whether a breach has occurred.”

British Airways has responded furiously calling the investigation “incredible”.

A spokesperson for the airline said: “During this unprecedented crisis we have issued well over three million refunds and helped millions of our customers change their travel dates or destinations.

“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.”

The Independent has also asked Ryanair for a response.