Airlines are being investigated by the competition watchdog over concerns they breached consumer rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights passengers could not take amid the pandemic.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said its probe will look at situations where airlines continued to operate flights despite people being unable lawfully to travel for non-essential purposes, such as during England’s second lockdown last month.
It said that in some cases where flights were not cancelled, customers were told to rebook or offered a voucher rather than a refund.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “We will be carefully analysing all the evidence to see whether any airlines breached consumers’ legal rights by refusing people cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.
“We recognise the continued pressure that businesses are currently facing but they have a responsibility to treat consumers fairly and abide by their legal obligations.”
✈️ We’ve launched an investigation into whether any airlines ignored their customers’ rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they were unable to take due to lockdown rules.
— Competition & Markets Authority (@CMAgovUK) December 16, 2020
The CMA said it will write to “a number of airlines” to request information about their approaches to refunds for passengers prevented from flying by lockdown restrictions.
It will analyse the evidence before deciding whether to launch enforcement action against individual carriers.
The watchdog will work closely with aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority during its investigation.
🏖️ Following our action, LoveHolidays has committed to pay customers over £18 million in refunds, after their holidays were cancelled due to #COVID-19.
44,000 customers will now be refunded in full by 31 March 2021.
— Competition & Markets Authority (@CMAgovUK) December 15, 2020
The CMA has carried out inquiries into the actions of a number of travel firms during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, it announced that more than 40,000 customers of LoveHolidays are to receive long-awaited refunds totalling more than £18 million for cancelled trips following an investigation.
It had previously secured refund commitments from Lastminute.com, Virgin Holidays, Tui’s UK business, Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals.