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Airlines to be investigated over Covid refunds fiasco

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Written by: Emma Lunn
16/12/2020
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into airlines over refunds during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CMA is investigating whether airlines have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.

The move comes as part of ongoing work by the CMA in relation to holiday refunds during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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.

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

The CMA recognises that the airlines sector, like many others, is under strain due to the pandemic. However, it is concerned that certain airlines may have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds, leaving people unfairly out of pocket.

Andrea Coscelli, CMA 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.

“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 CMA will be working closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority during the investigation.

The regulator will write to a number of airlines requiring information to understand more about their approaches to refunds for consumers prevented from flying by lockdown. After looking at the evidence, the CMA will decide whether to launch enforcement action against individual airlines.

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.”

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