CMA Closes Investigation Into Ryanair and British Airways’ Covid Refunds Claims

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have closed their investigation into whether Ryanair and British Airways owed customers who were legally prohibited from boarding their scheduled flights, due to lockdowns in their country, refunds stating that the legal position was unclear.

Despite thousands of customers being unable to go forth with their planned flights due to the restrictions of 2020 and 2021, the airlines have claimed that consumer protection law put them under no obligation to offer cash refunds to their customers. Therefore, in June 2021, the CMA began their investigation into this contentious area of law.

This month, the CMA closed their investigation into the airline companies finding that the consumer protection law entitles passengers to refunds only when the airline themselves cancels the flights to express an inability to provide their contracted services. However, as the airlines went ahead with some flights, the law is unclear about whether consumer protection law extends to passengers who were legally prohibited from taking their flight.

The CMA Chief Executive, Andrea Coscelli, believes that the law must adapt to fit with the uncertainties which have arisen from this unprecedented situation. Coscelli has stated, “Given the importance of this to many passengers who have unfairly lost out, we hope that the law in this area will be clarified.”

In addition, the regulator has argued that it would be unjustified to spend public money prolonging the investigation given the length of time it would take for an outcome to be reached in court and the uncertainty of the outcome.

Ryanair and British Airways agree with the outcome of the investigation as, in dispute to the claims from customers, the airlines argue that they have responded well to the challenges of travellers during the pandemic. The airlines offered vouchers or rebooking instead of refunds however, many customers availed this option. British Airways issued nearly 4 million refunds and offered highly flexible booking policies to the affected customers. Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has also claimed – in a March 2021 statement to the Transport Select Committee – “All of the passengers who had requested refunds had received them.”

© 2021 Whitestone Chambers

Fairhurst v Woodard: Neighbour Wins Security Camera Data Protection Case

In a series of disputes between neighbours Dr Mary Fairhurst and Mr Jon Woodard, over Mr Woodard’s house security system renovations which included security cameras and a Ring doorbell, a judge has held that Mr Woodard’s security system broke data laws and contributed to the harassment which led to Dr Fairhurst moving home.

It was found that Mr Woodard’s Ring doorbell captured images of Dr Fairhurst’s house and garden while the security camera mounted on Mr Woodard’s shed captured almost the whole of Dr Fairhurst’s garden and her parking space. In addition to video and image footage, the cameras collected audio data which Judge Melissa Clarke believed was “even more problematic and detrimental than video data” as it could capture the private conversations of neighbours.

Ring doorbells can pick up sound from 40 feet away enabling residents to turn their area of the neighbourhood and public space into surveillance hotbeds.

In conversation with Mr Woodard, Dr Fairhurst found that all data from the cameras were viewable by Mr Woodard on his smartphone or smartwatch in breach of the Data Protection Act 2020 and UK GDPR.

On one occasion, Mr Woodard sent Dr Fairhurst an image of her taken from the driveway camera claiming that there was a “suspicious stranger” loitering near his property. Judge Melissa Clarke determined this action as a threat and one of many examples of Mr Woodard utilising his security system to harass his neighbour.

In his defence, Mr Woodard claimed that his security system was put in place to prevent or detect crime which was claimed to be legal under s.1(3)(a) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. However, this was dismissed by the judge.

Amazon, the owner of Ring, has released a statement stating that customers must “respect their neighbours’ privacy, and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring devices”. Furthermore, Amazon stated that there were privacy settings on the Ring doorbell to turn sound recording on and off.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has also stated that “Lots of people use domestic CCTV and video doorbells. If you own one, you should respect people’s privacy rights and take steps to minimise intrusion to neighbours and passers-by.”

The data privacy case of Fairhurst v Woodard (Case No: G00MK161) continues an ongoing conversation around the normalisation of domestic surveillance within our communities as the rise of relatively affordable home surveillance technology suggests that courts will be dealing with more data protection cases to do with security systems.

© 2021 Whitestone Chambers