The competition watchdog has closed an investigation into British Airways and Ryanair, which both refused to give customers cash refunds for flights they were unable to take due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
The Competition and Markets Authority said that a lack of clarity in the law makes it insufficiently certain that it would be able to secure refunds for the airlines’ customers.
It said: “After a thorough examination of relevant law, and the evidence it had gathered during its investigation, the CMA has concluded that the law does not provide passengers with a sufficiently clear right to a refund in these unusual circumstances to justify continuing with the case.
“Consumer protection law sets out that passengers are entitled to refunds when an airline cancels a flight, because the firm cannot provide its contracted services. However, it does not clearly cover whether people should be refunded when their flight goes ahead but they are legally prohibited from taking it.
“Following its review of the law and evidence, alongside expert advice, the CMA concluded that prolonging this investigation could not be justified given the length of time it would take to reach an outcome in the courts and the uncertain outcome.
“Considering this, and given the CMA can only enforce the law as it stands, it has decided to close the investigation.”
Instead of refunding passengers who couldn’t take flights they’d booked, BA offered vouchers or the option to rebook and Ryanair also allowed customers to postpone their flight or transfer to another destination.
Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “We strongly believe people who are legally prevented from taking flights due to lockdown laws should be offered a full refund and we launched this investigation in the hope that we would be able to secure a positive outcome for consumers.
“However, after considering the relevant law and gathering evidence in our investigation, 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.
“Given the importance of this to many passengers who have unfairly lost out, we hope that the law in this area will be clarified.”