U.K. Drops Probe Into British Airways, Ryanair Covid Refunds
The U.K. ended a probe into British Airways and Ryanair Holdings Plc over their refusal to reimburse customers who were barred from flying because of ever-changing pandemic travel rules.
The Competition and Markets Authority decided to close the investigation because the law isn’t clear enough about a right to a refund “in these unusual circumstances,” according to a statement Thursday. Ryanair welcomed the decision.
The probe was launched in June to determine whether the airlines broke consumer laws by failing to offer customers their money back when Covid-19 rules made it illegal for them to fly. BA, a unit of IAG SA, instead offered ticket holders vouchers or a different flight, while discounter Ryanair opted for rebooking, the CMA said.
“We strongly believe people who are legally prevented from taking flights due to lockdown laws should be offered a full refund,” CMA Chief Executive Officer Andrea Coscelli said in a statement. However, “we have concluded that the length of time that would be required to take this case through the courts, and the uncertain outcome, can no longer justify the further expense of public money.”
The CMA investigation was part of an ongoing review of how holiday refunds have been handled during the pandemic. Some carriers kept operating even when travel restrictions made it impossible for people to fly legally, enabling them to dodge refund policies linked to flight cancelations.
“We operated a limited schedule during U.K. lockdowns for customers who traveled for essential reasons,” Ryanair said in an emailed statement. “Passengers had the option to change their bookings without paying the flight change fee and many availed of this option.”
The issue has been a contentious one since the pandemic began disrupting global air travel in March 2020, prompting cash-starved airlines to steer passengers toward rebooking or accepting credits for future flights. The failure to offer prompt reimbursement spurred a public backlash.
The U.K.’s ever-changing travel rules meant that destinations were suddenly on the no-go list at short notice and overseas holidays were banned over the Christmas holidays and into the new year, with the airlines taking a stand that they would only offer refunds if they canceled a flight. Travelers risked hefty fines for breaking lockdown rules if they chose to go ahead with their plans.
“During this unprecedented crisis we have acted lawfully at all times, issuing nearly 4 million refunds and offering highly flexible booking policies,” BA said in a statement.
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