MPs 'scrap plans for new powers to force airlines to issue refunds'

Ministers ‘scrap plans to force airlines to refund passengers for flights they could not take during Covid pandemic’

  • Plan was set to grant the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) watchdog extra powers
  • Comes after passengers refused refunds from BA and Ryanair during pandemic
  • MPs agreed tougher powers were needed due to legal loophole which effectively let airlines off the hook 

Plans to force airlines to refund passengers for booked flights which became ‘illegal’ to take due to Covid travel restrictions have reportedly been scrapped. 

Ministers are said to have quietly abandoned the proposal, which would have seen the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) watchdog granted extra ‘enforcement powers’, reports the Times.

It comes after carriers including British Airways and Ryanair refused to issue refunds to passengers when strict coronavirus measures effectively made their tickets null and void last year. 

Typically, if a customer books a flight directly with an airline and it is cancelled, they are due their money back. 

However the unprecedented travel rules owing to the pandemic simply made it ‘illegal’ for the majority of passengers to board. 

It means they were not owed an automatic refund because their flights had not been cancelled directly by the carriers.  

The legal loophole led MPs to agree that tougher enforcement powers were needed – particularly given that any court action launched by the CAA against the airlines can take years to complete. 

Ministers are said to have quietly abandoned the proposal, which would have seen the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) watchdog granted extra ‘enforcement powers’ against carries (file photo)

In April this year, the Department for Transport (DfT) also vowed to grant the airlines watchdog extra powers in a bid to ‘build consumer confidence and develop trust in booking travel’. 

However aviation minister Robert Courts revealed in Parliament last week that there were no such plans in place. 

He said now was not an ‘appropriate’ time to review the CAA’s statutory duties because of the ‘significant impact’ of the coronavirus crisis.

Responding to a question from Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, Mr Courts said: ‘Due to the significant impact that the Covid-19 crisis has had on both our aviation industry and the CAA, we do not consider it appropriate at this time to review the statutory duties of the CAA overall. 

‘However, we will consider changes to the CAA’s powers and duties where necessary.’

Rory Boland, travel editor of the consumer group Which?, accused the government of going back on its word. 

He told the Times: ‘It’s unacceptable that the government is suggesting it could backtrack on or delay its plans for reform of the CAA’s powers.

‘The pandemic saw millions of pounds in refunds for cancelled flights illegally denied — proving beyond any doubt that the regulator doesn’t have the powers it needs to effectively hold airlines to account for brazen law-breaking.

‘The government must not go back on its pledge to strengthen the CAA’s powers, which should include giving the regulator powers to fine airlines directly when they break the law. 

‘It should move quickly to carry out a review, to give reassurance to passengers that they will soon have a regulator with the powers it needs to stand up for their rights.’

The DfT detailed giving the CAA more bite in its Global Travel Taskforce report in April.

It comes after carriers including British Airways and Ryanair refused to issue refunds to passengers when strict coronavirus measures effectively made their tickets null and void last year

It said: ‘The UK government will also build consumer confidence and develop trust in booking travel by putting further measures in place to ensure their money is safe in case bookings are cancelled wherever possible.

‘Government will put in place additional, flexible and modern tools and work with regulators across all modes of transport to ensure consumer rights are enforced.

‘For instance, for aviation this will include reforming the enforcement powers that the CAA has on airlines that breach consumer rights, which will be detailed in the strategic framework for the aviation sector to be published later this year.’

The DfT said it would look into boosting the CAA’s powers where needed for specific issues, such as consumer protection.

A spokesman for British Airways said: ‘Where a customer’s flight is cancelled we always contact them to offer options including a full refund.

‘Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use as part of our Book with Confidence policy, which has been available since the beginning of the pandemic.’

Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.

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