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Calls for a test case for lockdown airline refunds

Written by: Emma Lunn
Consumer champion website The Complaining Cow is calling for a test case to be taken against an airline over pandemic-related flight refunds.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced yesterday that it was dropping its investigation into the refund policies of British Airways and Ryanair.

The competition watchdog was looking into whether the two airlines broke the law by failing to offer refunds for flights customers could not legally take during lockdown.

During periods of lockdown across the UK, 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. Both airlines still operated many flights, despite lockdown restrictions making non-essential travel illegal.

When a flight is cancelled the law is clear, a full refund must be given. However, the law does not cover the situation where a flight goes ahead but the law prevents people from going on it. The CMA believes that consumers should be refunded but “…concluded that prolonging this investigation could not be justified given the length of time it would take to reach an outcome in the courts and the uncertain outcome.”

Helen Dewdney, founder of the Complaining Cow, said: “In the past, where airlines have tried to get out of paying refunds and test cases have been brought a precedent has been set. And that precedent has been set in favour of consumers. This could be from either a consumer organisation or a class action. We need to show companies that they cannot run roughshod over consumers.”

Dewdney is calling for a law firm to pick up the case on behalf of an individual or group affected by Ryanair and BA’s refusal to refund customers and bring these airlines to justice.

A class action is where a group of people come together and are represented as a group against a company in court.

Previous class actions against airlines include the 2012 case of Huzar v Jet2 and Dawson v Thomson. These confirmed that “routine technical difficulties” for an airline were not “extraordinary circumstances” under the terms of the EC261 regulations, with the Supreme Court upholding the decision in 2014.

Also, in 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled in the class action case of Helga Krüsemann and Others v TUIfly, stating that a strike by an airline company’s employees were not “extraordinary circumstances”.

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