Air passengers unable to travel due to government restrictions may get refunds

Passengers prevented from taking flights because of government travel restrictions may be in line for cash refunds.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into whether airlines have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully access.

Tens of thousands of travellers in England who booked trips before the second lockdown was announced in November found themselves with flights they were unable to access due to strict rules on non-essential travel.

Travellers from the other UK nations have faced similar problems.

If the flight was subsequently cancelled – as many were – the passenger is due their money back in full within a week under European air passengers’ rights rules.

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But where a flight went ahead, airlines either offered a voucher for future travel or – in the case of Ryanair and Wizz Air – enforced their normal flight-change rules and fees.

The CMA investigation will look at both cases. Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive, said: “We will be carefully analysing all the evidence to see whether any airlines breached consumers’ legal rights by refusing people cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.

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“We recognise the continued pressure that businesses are currently facing, but they have a responsibility to treat consumers fairly and abide by their legal obligations.”

The standard coronavirus policy that the CMA has adopted is that in any contract frustrated by government action, the consumer should get their money back in full.

But carriers argue that of the seat on the flight was available, the fact that the holidaymaker could not legally access it was regrettable – but the traveller had agreed to the airline’s terms at the time of purchase.

While the CMA cannot itself issue fines, it can seek to enforce what it sees as breaches of consumer rights through the courts.

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