The CMA and CAA published a joint letter to airlines in July, raising issues around practices and processes regarding flight cancellations and refunds and also to provide a reminder as to their legal obligations to consumers.
The letter raised concerns that certain practices around cancellations and refunds may not be legally compliant, with specific attention drawn to the practices of:
- selling more tickets for a flight than the airline can reasonably expect to supply and failing to warn customers about the risk of cancellation;
- not meeting obligations to offer re-routing in the event of cancellation;
- failing to clearly advise customers as to their rights on cancellation; and
- failing to provide adequate support where flights are cancelled or otherwise disrupted.
The letter highlighted that the above practices may be contrary to the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPUT) on the basis that:
1) Advertising a product or service which the trader cannot reasonably expect to be able to supply is a banned practice under CPUT and so airlines should have reasonable grounds to believe they can supply all of the flights that they advertise. The letter noted that airlines should review factors that may cause flights cancellations on an ongoing basis and that flights should not be described as available, if there is significant doubt that they will depart.
2) Under CPUT traders are under a duty to act with professional diligence and, as a result, airlines should (among other things):
- carry out regular assessments of capacity;
- have sufficient support staff to source replacement flights and complete re-bookings, including onto other carriers;
- offer customers multiple routes (not just apps) to get in touch with airlines to understand and exercise their legal rights;
- monitor the time customers spend waiting for assistance and ensure it is not unreasonable;
- pay refunds, compensation and other reimbursements promptly.
It is clear from both this letter and its recent actions that the CMA continues to pay close attention to the travel and aviation industry.
Given this heightened focus – and the fact that the government proposes to grant the CMA greater powers to directly enforce consumer law, as we discussed recently - travel companies would be well advised to carry out a robust review of their operations to ensure that they are acting in compliance with both travel specific and wider consumer protection legislation.
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