Consumer watchdog Which? claims carriers are flouting rules over delays, cancellations and refunds
On The Beach backs calls for more powers to clamp down on ‘rogue airlines’
On the Beach founder Simon Cooper has backed calls from consumer group Which? for tougher sanctions on airlines that flout rules over delays, cancellations and refunds.
Which? today (Monday) urged the government to strengthen the powers of the Civil Aviation Authority to clamp down on rogue carriers.
Cooper, chief executive of the OTA, demanded the competition watchdog also steps in to police the industry as he accused carriers of “getting away with murder”.
New research by the consumer body found a “significant proportion” of travellers reporting a lack of confidence that airlines would treat them fairly and uphold their legal rights to assistance or compensation in the event of delays or cancellations.
Which? found that travellers who suffered a delay with their most recent flight were the most likely to express doubt that their airline would treat them fairly in future, with nearly half (49%) saying that they lacked confidence, compared with four in 10 (39%) travellers overall.
Those who did not book their flight as part of a package holiday were more likely to lack confidence in airline treatment (45%) compared to those who booked a package holiday (31%).
Of the 149 people who suffered a cancellation or a delay of more than two hours, 35 believed airlines did not meet the requirements for cancellation or delays, such as informing them of their rights to assistance.
Which? voiced concern that repeated failures by airlines to make travellers aware of their consumer rights indicates a “systemic problem” in the travel sector, which the CAA has limited powers to correct.
This is particularly concerning given the high numbers of people who were impacted by delays and cancellations last year, with four in 10 (41%) of 1,000 people surveyed reporting an issue with their most recent flight such as a delay, cancellation, or loss of luggage.
Delays were the most prevalent issue, with almost three quarters (73%) of those who suffered a problem reporting that they were delayed, and nearly a third of those (30%) waited for more than two hours in total.
‘Getting away with murder’
Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach, claimed that some airlines have been “getting away with murder” with delayed refunds, last-minute flight cancellations and extra charges.
He added: “It’s a disgrace. Ministers and regulators are finally realising it too. Maybe if the CAA started to hand out large fines, they’d change their behaviour?
“We’ve been vocal about the crazy amount of power that some of these airlines have over hard-working people; they have little to no competition on some routes, so they abuse their power at will and have no incentive to do better.
“The so-called low-cost airlines know that people will still book, because what is the alternative if you want to go on holiday? You don’t have one.
“Now more than ever, every penny counts for consumers. The CAA has to be given the power and tools to enforce the rules and hold these airlines who are brazenly ignoring the law, to account.
“The CAA also needs to speed up its Atol reform consultation process. It’s been delay after delay – evidence of the apathy that exists in our industry.
“Reform needs to happen now and it’s why we’re also calling on the Competition and Markets Authority to step up, police the industry properly and prioritise a market review.”
With a long-promised transport bill scrapped from this Parliamentary session, an independent review of the CAA still ongoing, and no decision forthcoming on consultation proposals made in early 2022, Which? called on transport secretary Mark Harper to “urgently make clear” how and when he will make these powers a reality.
Policy and advocacy director Rocio Concha said: “After the unacceptable delays and disruption experienced by travellers last year, it is concerning, though perhaps unsurprising, to find that almost two-fifths of travellers express a lack of confidence that they’ll receive fair treatment from their airlines should things go awry in future.
“The transport secretary must urgently set out plans to equip the aviation regulator with greater enforcement powers so it can properly hold airlines to account when they mistreat passengers and neglect their legal responsibilities.
“Without decisive action, some airlines will continue to be emboldened to fail passengers, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the last few years.”
CAA consumer director Paul Smith said: “We have regularly asked for stronger consumer enforcement powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to take faster action when appropriate and bring our powers in line with other sectoral regulators.
“If implemented, proposals outlined in the government’s consultation on enforcement powers, which were supported by the transport select committee, will improve passenger rights and equip us with better tools to act swiftly and effectively for the benefit of consumers.”