- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Airlines are shirking their responsibilities and refusing to pay refunds and compensation after abandoning customers abroad.
Travellers have been plagued by flight cancellations and delays in recent weeks and airlines have received a record number of complaints.
Complaints website Resolver received 5,576 complaints about airlines in the first fortnight of June, the highest number ever recorded for a two-week period. The number of complaints almost exceeded the 5,757 made in the whole of May, when levels were already 60pc higher than those recorded in April.
But when customers have fought for the money they are entitled to, in many cases they have been met with defiance by airlines. Martyn James of Resolver said it was “depressingly common” for airlines to pay customers less than they were owed.
The Air Passenger Rights & Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Regulations 2019 dictate that airlines must fully refund passengers or find them an alternative booking if they cancel a flight. The refund must be paid within seven days and if customers received less than 14 days’ notice they could be entitled to compensation.
But Rory Boland of the consumer website Which? warned that it was routine for airlines to play “fast and loose with the rules”. He said: “Time and again we see some operators ignoring their legal obligations. It demonstrates why the Civil Aviation Authority needs to be given the power to issue direct fines so it can hold airlines to account when they flout the law.”
The situation has become so extreme that exasperated customers have turned to legal action to extract refunds from airlines.
Earlier this year Brett Clancy faced down British Airways in the small claims court over an outstanding £55 refund and won. Mr Clancy said: “It might seem like a nominal sum, but it was a matter of principle. I didn’t do it for the money but rather to ensure BA paid what it owed.”
Last year Mr Clancy paid £265 for return tickets to Madeira, but BA cancelled his inbound flight. The airline refunded £76.70 – 30pc of the total ticket cost.
But Mr Clancy argued that he was owed a refund of half the entire ticket price, or £132.50. Even though BA argued that the fare for the return leg of the journey was much lower than for the outbound trip, Mr Clancy refused to back down and took the fight to the courts, where he represented himself.
He said: “Among other things, I argued that the prices of flights that they referred to on their online booking system were merely indications and could change during the booking process. I argued that the customer did not ‘agree’ to those prices and never saw them again, and that they did not appear on the ticket, which is the contract.”
A judge in the county court agreed and ordered BA to pay the outstanding refund of £55.84 and reimburse court fees.
Mr Clancy added: “It was time consuming, but I was just sick of shoddy customer service from large companies. It’s not that difficult to sue big companies in the small claims court and hopefully, if enough people do so, it might force them to change their customer service approach.”
British Airways said: “The cost of tickets is clearly displayed during our booking process.”
If an airline falls short of its legal responsibilities when it pays a refund or compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight, make sure you know your rights.
Mr James said: “If an airline declines your application for genuine reimbursement, a good next step is cutting and pasting a link to the law that dictates its obligations. Ask it why it is disagreeing with the law. It is very likely to want to avoid disputing the law in writing.
“Doing this will also show that you know what you are talking about. The airline will be more likely to back down and stop trying its luck.”
Mr James urged passengers to take photos of receipts for expenses incurred as a result of flight cancellations, such as hotels and food, to claim later. He added: “If you are trying to get through to the airline and its online chat isn’t working or you have been on hold for ages, take a screenshot. This will show that it failed to offer the most basic contact when you needed it.”