Did easyJet break the law with last minute cancellations?
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A leading consumer watchdog has reported easyJet to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over “appallingly” poor treatment of passengers whose flights had been cancelled.
Which? is asking that the CAA investigate whether the low-cost airline broke consumer law following a number of recent cancellations, believing that thousands of passengers were not told their rights in the aftermath.
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The website has brought the receipts too, citing cases where “abandoned” holidaymakers were left to sleep on the airport floor when they found hotels were fully booked or had to pay for more expensive flights home after their original services were axed.
That includes 33-year-old Damian McConville, who, together with his wife, had to sleep on the floor at London Gatwick (LGW) due to a lack of accommodation. According to reports, they awoke at 3 a.m. to find easyJet had cancelled their rescheduled flight, and the carrier didn’t inform them that they had a right to claim for £880 worth of compensation.
It’s more than just a few horror stories — the consumer champion, Which?, claims that a blatant indifference to customer care and consumer rights law has gradually become a “systemic problem” for the aviation sector.
“EasyJet has treated its passengers appallingly, but this is just the latest example of a systemic problem in the aviation sector – some airlines routinely ignore their legal obligations because they know they won’t face any consequences,” said Which? Travel editor Rory Boland.
Boland has called on the government to grant the CAA more powers in order to be able to serve airlines with financial penalties should disruption and disregard for passenger rights continue:
“With thousands more flight cancellations potentially to come, passengers face a miserable summer unless the CAA and government act on their promises to stamp out consumer rights abuses,” he added.
“A major overhaul is desperately needed, so the government must give the CAA stronger powers so it can hit operators with heavy fines when necessary. Ministers should also drop their ill-conceived plans to slash compensation rates for domestic flights.”
Pound for pound, no airline operating in U.K airports has fared worse for cancellations this year than easyJet, which axed 742 scheduled departures, or 4.61% of its U.K. services, in June alone.
In response to Which?’s claims a CAA spokesperson said: “We will review [Which?’s] 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.”
In response to the claims an EasyJet spokesperson said: “We provide customers with a leading self-service tool which enables them to reroute quickly and easily on alternative flights where their flight is cancelled. This includes the option to fly to/from different airports within the same country, if they wish to.
“We clearly inform customers that if there are no easyJet alternative flights within 24 hours, they can book flights via an alternative carrier and we’ll reimburse them in full or they can choose a full refund.”
What are my rights if easyJet cancel my flight?
Following any flight cancellation, easyJet is required to book you into the next available service where capacity allows.
Should there be no direct flight within 24 hours, the airline’s customer contact centres, or staff on the ground, should book you onto flights by alternative airlines.
However, the airline tends to advise passengers to book these flights themselves as “this offers more flexibility and is the quickest way to secure a seat on the alternative flight” (read: we’re understaffed). EasyJet will then reimburse customers for the full cost of the alternative transport.
As for a part or full refund for disrupted travel, don’t worry, you’re protected under EU law and the UK261 rule, while easyJet also states you will be provided compensation for cancellations that are under its control.
In fairness to easyJet, it’s refund hub is pretty easy to use. You can either opt for vouchers for the full value of your booking (you have 12 months to claim from the date of issue) or you can request your money back. Refunds are paid directly into the account you used to book, and take around seven days to process.
If the CAA do investigate and find easyJet guilty of breaching consumer law on a mass scale, it could have serious ripple effects for the industry as a whole, as rival airlines scramble to ensure they’re also ticking the right boxes when it comes to customer rights awareness.
Will it be a watershed moment though? Unlikely. Right now, as Which? admit themselves, the CAA doesn’t have the power to hit airlines where it hurts (the cash reserves), meaning they could continue to “ignore legal obligations” if they know it will just result in a slap on the wrist.
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