British Airways and Ryanair under scrutiny for passenger refunds during lockdown

Jun 9, 2021

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Both British Airways and Ryanair are under investigation for how they handled refunds for passengers who were unable to fly due to COVID-related lockdown protocols.

Government regulators at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have accused the two carriers of going beyond the letter of the law with their refund policies for passengers during stretches of lockdown. It could lead to both airlines being forced to offer refunds to passengers who couldn’t fly because of government mandates.

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Non-essential travel has been banned for several periods during the past 15 months — including an unprecedented 19-week ban on going abroad that ended on 17 May 2021.

“During periods of lockdown across the U.K., British Airways and Ryanair refused to give refunds to people that were lawfully unable to fly, with British Airways offering vouchers or rebooking and Ryanair providing the option to rebook,” the CMA said in a statement announcing the probe.

Here is where things get a bit complicated when viewing the situation. According to the Air Passenger Rights rules, airlines that operate a flight are under no obligation to give refunds to people who can’t travel.

The CMA, however, believes wider consumer law means that if a customer can’t take the flight he or she has booked due to government action — such as a lockdown on air travel — the ticket should be regarded as “frustrated,” and a refund should be due.

“Customers booked these flights in good faith and were legally unable to take them due to circumstances entirely outside of their control,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA. “We believe these people should have been offered their money back.”

Ryanair has not commented on the investigation, but British Airways says the airline acted lawfully with regards to its customers “at all times.” Further, a spokesperson expressed disbelief the government was going after an airline during the unprecedented difficulty caused by the pandemic.

“During this unprecedented crisis, we have issued well over three million refunds and helped millions of our customers change their travel dates or destinations,” a BA spokesperson said in a statement. “It is incredible that the government is seeking to punish further an industry that is on its knees, after prohibiting airlines from meaningful flying for well over a year now.”

The CMA does note that it will be up to the courts to determine if any laws were broken.

Featured photo by Steve Parsons/Getty Images.

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