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

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