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Refund woes lead to calls for regulator to be given power to fine airlines

Lily Canter
·2-min read
The CAA has applied to the courts for an enforcement order against Ryanair for refusing to pay compensation to delayed passengers. Credit: Getty.
The CAA has applied to the courts for an enforcement order against Ryanair for refusing to pay compensation to delayed passengers. Credit: Getty.

Which? is calling for the aviation regulator to urgently be given powers to fine airlines, after nearly six months of “blatant disregard” for the law on refunds for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

The consumer group says airlines operating in the UK have not faced a single fine for breaking consumer law on refunds, delays or cancellations since 2003.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was granted powers to enforce consumer rights laws on airlines in 2003, but cannot directly fine airlines.

And the regulator has only used its powers once to apply to the courts for an enforcement order which forces an airline to comply with the law. This was against Ryanair (RYA.L) in 2018, for refusing to compensate passengers for delays caused by planned industrial action by its staff during the peak of the summer holidays. The case is yet to be heard and the airline continues to refuse to compensate consumers.

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The findings come after Which? exposed the UK’s 10 biggest airlines for repeatedly breaking the law on refunds for coronavirus cancellations earlier this year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the consumer champion reported airlines to the regulator for refusing to reroute passengers when flights were cancelled, leaving passengers stranded abroad and having to pay extortionate fees to get home.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Without the ability to issue fines or take swift action against airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority has struggled to effectively stand up for the passengers it is there to protect. Several airlines already know this, and there’s a real risk some have felt empowered to break the law as a result — and without the threat of penalties, they may continue to do so.

“Trust in the travel industry has been battered in recent months, so passengers need a strong regulator they can count on. It’s clear serious reforms need to be made to the sector — as a first step, the government must take urgent steps to ensure the CAA has the tools it needs to effectively hold airlines to account.”