The consumer group Which? claims airlines flying to and from the UK are “potentially breaking the law with unfair and misleading terms and conditions”.
In a report titled “Final boarding call,” the organisation calls for a major overhaul of travel sector rules to ensure operators are held to account when they treat passengers badly.
Since international travel restrictions were lifted for arrivals to the UK, airlines have struggled to meet demand – with up to 200 flight cancellations on some days.
The report says that after “the chaotic start to the 2022 holiday season” some airlines are “seemingly ignoring their legal obligations to help passengers with rerouting and rebooking, while other holidaymakers have struggled to get refunds”.
It cites example of cancellation emails and letters BA issued to passengers following an IT failure in April 2022 that “make no mention of compensation rights”.
Which? says: “BA is required by law to offer passengers whose flights it has cancelled re-routing to their destination at the ‘earliest opportunity’.
“Crucially, this includes booking them with other airlines when necessary. We have seen some evidence of BA informing its customers that it will only rebook flights for them on its own jets or with carriers it has a commercial relationship with, even when this may not be available for a number of days.”
A British Airways spokesperson said: “We always seek to meet our legal obligations and when a customer’s flight is cancelled or disrupted, we provide the relevant information to fully inform them of their rights.”
Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy for Which?, said “Consumer rights and laws are meaningless if they are not enforced. Our analysis shows some airlines are routinely ignoring their legal obligations and ripping off their customers, with little fear of facing any consequences.
“Passengers have suffered for too long due to a lack of accountability and weak enforcement of the rules.
“The immense disruption of recent weeks can be a watershed moment and used as a springboard to reform the industry for their benefit.
“The government must take action to restore consumer confidence in travel. That should start with a consumer-focused code of conduct all airlines must adhere to, and stronger powers for the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority], including the ability to fine operators directly when they break the rules.”
A spokesperson for the CAA said: “We thank Which? for its continued engagement regarding contract terms and airlines. We will review its latest evidence thoroughly and will respond accordingly.
“We have regularly called for stronger consumer powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to take faster action when appropriate and bring our powers in line with other sectoral regulators.”
The Which? report also calls for the Department for Transport (DfT) to drop plans to reduce the amount of compensation passengers can expect when domestic flights are severely disrupted.
“We are concerned that if implemented, these changes would remove an important deterrent against bad business practices,” the organisation says.
“For a flight between London and Edinburgh with a full capacity of 180 passengers, an airline would potentially have to pay out up to £39,600 for delays of three hours or more under the current rules. Under the government’s proposed scheme the maximum payout is reduced to just £7,920.”
The DfT says it is consulting on “the creation of a fairer compensation model for when domestic UK flights are delayed”.
It says: “Based on the current compensation model used by rail and ferry customers, this will see a significant shift away from the current ‘set rate’ model.
“Passengers would instead be able to claim compensation based on the length of the flight delay and linked to cost of travel rather than having to meet a certain threshold – which is currently a three-hour delay.”