Airline Refunds – What are your rights?

Recently there has been a deluge of news stories focusing on disgruntled passengers struggling to get refunds out of airlines given the constant chop change of covid restrictions. Many passengers purchased tickets in good faith believing they would be able to travel to green list countries following the government advice only for those countries subsequently moving to amber resulting in yet further disruption for passengers and the airline industry.

Andrea Coscelli, from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said: “While we understand that airlines have had a tough time during the pandemic, people should not be left unfairly out of pocket for following the law.

Customers booked these flights in good faith and were legally unable to take them due to circumstances entirely outside of their control. We believe these people should have been offered their money back.”

Reports state that the CMA have received over 150,000 complaints related to holiday packages and airfare refunds.

In response British Airways state that they offer “highly flexible booking policies at the same time as operating a vastly reduced schedule due to government-imposed travel restrictions, and we have acted lawfully at all times”. Ryanair for their part say they will pay refunds “in justified cases”.

So are the airlines acting lawfully or should they be refunding unused tickets as per the CMA demands?

To answer this question passengers need to be aware of two things.

First what does your contract with the airline say?

Many airlines are offering fares which allow you to cancel your booking up to a certain period before the flight is scheduled to depart for any reason – including Covid restrictions. In these circumstances you are clearly entitled to a full refund. Some airlines may try and offer a travel voucher instead. This is up to each passenger to decide whether they want to accept this or not but legally they would have to pay a full refund if requested to do so.

So what about if your contract doesn’t allow for this?

Legally they do not have to provide a refund if you can no longer travel providing that the flight you were scheduled to operate on still operates. If the flight is cancelled then consumers are afforded protections under EU Regulation 261/2004 which continues to be applicable as “retained EU law” by virtue of s. 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Under the law they must provide a full refund within 7 days. A passenger can still accept either a later flight or a voucher if they chose but legally they must provide a full refund.

What would happen therefore if an airline decided to operate an empty flight just to avoid providing refunds? This has been a commonly reported issue. A simple search online for “ghost flights” shows some airlines such as Ryanair operating flights virtually empty simply as a way of avoiding refunds to consumers. Is it legal? Unfortunately for passengers it is perfectly legal. The flight has not been cancelled by the airline so you are not protected under the law unless your contract has a provision for this.

The lesson here then is word to the wise. Make sure you know what you are booking and your rights if something unexpected happens.


Free Eligibility Check

If your flight has been disrupted due to a delay or cancellation you may have the potential to make a claim under the EU Regulation 261/2004 for compensation.  This could be up to €600 per person.  Contact Hayward Baker on 01329 227 983 or complete our On-Line Form today to discuss the potential for a claim.

Have you had a flight that was disrupted?

You may be entitled to claim compensation.





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Airline Refunds – What are your rights?
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