Flights compensation: Airlines investigated on Covid refund shambles – millions impacted

Martin Lewis outlines details about changes to flight refunds

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is set to launch an investigation into the airline sector following the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights during the pandemic, whether due to lockdown rules or travel corridor restrictions.

However, many passengers found they were left waiting for long periods of time before receiving money back.

Now, the CMA has said although it appreciated airlines may be under severe financial pressure, it does not mean consumers should be “left unfairly out of pocket”.

“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,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA.

“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.”

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During the pandemic, many passengers found they were unable to claim a monetary refund despite being unable to travel legally.

Instead, a number of airlines offered vouchers for future travel.

“The investigation will consider situations where airlines continued to operate flights despite people being unable lawfully to travel for non-essential purposes in the UK or abroad, for example during the second lockdown in England in November,” cites the CMA.

“The CMA is aware that, in some cases where flights were not cancelled, customers were not offered refunds even though they could not lawfully travel.

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“Instead, many were offered the option to rebook or to receive a voucher.”

In November, the UK was hit with a four-week travel ban, during which Britons were only allowed to travel for a specific list of “essential reasons”.

The CMA will be working closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority throughout the investigation.

The authority will write to airlines included in the investigation “to understand more about their approaches to refunds for consumers prevented from flying by lockdown.”

Following this, the body will then decide whether or not to launch enforcement against individual airlines.

Previously, money saving expert Martin Lewis described the fight for flight refunds as a “nightmare”.

“There are systemic problems with some travel firms who are just not budging and making it bureaucratically difficult,” he said.

“People have had this problem with so many different travel companies.”

Following the decision, Rory Boland, Which? travel editor said: “Airlines have often put customers in an impossible situation by operating flights during lockdown restrictions and refusing to offer cash refunds to people who cannot lawfully travel – so it is right that the CMA has stepped in to investigate and it should take strong action, where appropriate.

“We expect the hundreds of thousands of people who were simply following government rules by not taking flights to be issued refunds or given the option of a refund, as a result of this investigation.”

In June, the Civil Aviation Authority advised consumers they should always be offered a refund along with a credit note for future travel.

“While consumers may accept a refund credit note if offered, they are entitled to a cash refund and must be offered this option at the same time as a refund credit note or booking amendment,” said Paul Smith, consumer director at the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Customers who found themselves unable to secure a refund were further advised to seek a charge back from their debit or credit card provider.

“[This] is basically debit or credit card,” explained travel expert Simon Calder, “you just say to your card issuer, ‘This service hasn’t been provided, therefore I want my money back.’

“It’s a voluntary scheme so it’s not part of the law but very often that will work.”

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