No refunds for passengers with ‘illegal’ Covid flights as Government scraps plans

Simon Calder says current UK travel rules are a ‘mess’

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Ministers are said to have abandoned proposed plans to give the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) more power to enforce refunds. Passengers who have argued they are owed a refund are set to be disappointed.

Normally when a customer books a flight that is then cancelled, they are due their money back.

However, during Covid many of the flights were not cancelled by the airline, but instead became ‘illegal’ under UK pandemic laws.

This meant passengers were not automatically entitled to a refund, as the airline had not cancelled the flights.

The legal loophole led some MPs to argue for more enforcement powers against airlines to protect customers’ money.

In April of this year, the Department for Transport promised to give the airlines watchdog extra powers to “build consumer confidence and develop trust in booking travel”.

The proposed plans were intended to put more measures in place to protect customers’ money in the event of a cancelled booking.

However aviation minister Robert Courts has said the plans for extra powers will not now be going ahead.

He said in Parliament: “Due to the significant impact that the Covid 19 crisis has had on both our aviation industry and the CAA, we do not consider it appropriate at this time to review the statutory duties of the CAA overall.

“However, we will consider changes to the CAA’s powers and duties where necessary.”

British Airways was among the airlines that refused to give customers a refund for the ‘illegal’ flights.

It said in a statement: “Where a customer’s flight is cancelled we always contact them to offer options including a full refund.

“Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use as part of our Book with Confidence policy, which has been available since the start of the pandemic.”

Ryanair also refused to give customers their money back for ‘illegal’ flights during the pandemic.

Rory Boland, travel editor of Which? Magazine told The Times: “It’s unacceptable that the Government is suggesting it could backtrack on or delay its plans for reform of the CAA’s powers.

“The pandemic saw millions of pounds in refunds for cancelled flights illegally denied- proving beyond any doubt that the regulator doesn’t have the powers it needs to effectively hold airlines to account for brazen law-breaking.

“It should move quickly to carry out a review, to give reassurance to passengers that they will soon have a regulator with the powers it needs to stand up for their rights.”

Many customers are likely to be disappointed by the decision as they will no longer receive refunds from ‘illegal’ flights.

The rules are particularly frustrating for customers who do not want to reschedule their flight and just need the money back.

The CAA could launch legal action against airlines refusing to pay out but the case would likely take years.

Travel restrictions in the UK have been steadily lifted in the last few weeks with pre-departure tests due to be scrapped on October 4.

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