UK court ruling may lead to 6 years of refunds for cancelled returns on missed flights

Three years ago we wrote about the court decision in Huzar vs Jet2.  Jet2’s decision not to pay Mr Huzar his EU compensation has turned out to be one of the most expensive mistakes in recent aviation history, since Mr Huzar won in court.  This set a legal precedent that airlines must pay compensation due to mechanical faults and that these are not ‘out of the control’ of the airline.

Dove vs Iberia will have similar repercussions although, legally, the decision in this case is not binding.  In reality, it is unlikely any other judge would find differently unless Iberia chooses to appeal.

James Dove booked a return flight from Gatwick to Madrid but missed the outbound flight, arriving just a few minutes late at the airport.  Rather than go home, he decided to bite the bullet and buy a one way flight with another airline, presumably easyJet.

Iberia A330 350

As he had missed his outbound flight, Iberia automatically cancelled his return.  He was therefore forced to buy a new return ticket as well.  Mr Dove felt that this was unfair.  After all, the flights had been priced individually on the Iberia website and he could just as easily have booked 2 x one-way flights for the same money.

Iberia refused to refund the money for the return flight, so Mr Dove took the airline to court.  This week, he won.

Iberia may still appeal – apparently it has until next Monday to decide.

If it does not, it will open the floodgates to refund claims dating back six years (five years in Scotland).  If you have lost money since 2011 on the return leg of a flight because you failed to turn up for the outbound – and, for clarity, you can’t get money back for the outbound leg – then you should make a claim in writing to your airline.

What is unclear is what this means for ‘missed leg’ flights.  As all Head for Points readers know, booking a flight from Amsterdam to London to Hong Kong is aggressively cheaper, in premium cabins, than London to Hong Kong.  But what does this ruling mean for anyone who misses the flight in Amsterdam but still wants to turn up in London?

There is more on this story on The Independent website here.  None of the other papers seem to have picked it up yet.  Thanks to Richard for flagging.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

Bits: BA cancelling strike flights from 1 July, Gatwick Express cancelling trains from Thursday
My review of the Trump Turnberry hotel and resort in Scotland
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.


  1. HiDeHi says:

    Iberia were dumb for not settling this case. They must have been 100% confident of winning which seems unfounded given that morally at least it sounds like they were in the wrong.

    • HiDeHi says:

      Also won’t this mean that anyone who had deliberately abandoned an entire return ticket because say they couldn’t get the time off to take the holiday etc. can now reclaim the cost of a return leg that they wouldn’t have taken even if it hadn’t been cancelled once they missed their outward leg? Sounds messy.

      • Yes that’s what I’m wondering

      • Gavin T says:

        Surely your claim isn’t for the original cost of the inbound flight, but for the new ticket you had to book to replace the flight the airline unreasonably cancelled?

        If you never travelled you wouldn’t have a loss to claim for.

        • In this case your claim would be for the airline refusing to carry you on the return leg you had paid for.

          If you had turned up and were carried or if the airline said they would carry you but you didn’t turn up then you wouldn’t have a claim.

  2. Stu R says:

    I guess that, where flights are priced individually, it’d be better to book them as two singles rather than a return? I’m afraid we always turn up at the airport hours before we need to, in order that we don’t end up in this situation …. hopefully!

    • Erico1875 says:

      Problem then is if the outbound is cancelled, you are stuck with the inbound

      • Frenske says:

        I hope this does not mean that BA and others does not allow to buy single tickets and not showing them. Pricing individually makes it easier to find better deals. I don’t agree with that the finding that because the pricing is individual for individual flights, it should be considered as 2 single flights. Pretty sure when the flight was searched the customer has chosen a RETURN flight as option and not ONE WAY.

        That said, air lines should not cancel the return flights one-sided especially since customer paid for the service. They could have contacted the customer and give him time up to 24h before the return flight to make a decision regarding the return flight. Other option perhaps give the customer a chance to recoup some of the costs of the return flight. BA is making a lot of money on missed flights.

  3. Chris says:

    On claims against cancelled flights…I am right that I’m unable to claim anything from American Airlines for a cancelled flight from Chicago to Manchester in 2013 ain’t i as the carrier has to be EU or the flight has to be in the EU?

  4. Cheshire Pete says:

    I’ve been in dispute with Iberia since our Easter break to Alicante where they delivered our bags over 24 hours late due to our Madrid connection being late(their fault). They turned down our receipts and awarded us €25 each(2 bags) and then their Madrid customer services ignore pretty much anything you say to them with an 18 day response for each reply.

    It’s the worst CS experience I’ve ever encountered. It’s now with my credit card CCA department.

  5. JamesB says:

    When it suits them BA, and likely most other airlines, exploit individual flight sectors for their own benefit such as reducing cash or miles refunded. I’m sure they will be up in arms about this but most passengers will be happy Dove won and despite any effort by the airlines I hope this sticks. It is another reason I love Air Asia, they have no such nonsense and any return flight is still available to use irrespective of reason for not using outward sector.

  6. Jason Hindle says:

    For the flight in question, it looks like the airline failed to demonstrate any advantage to booking the return vs two one way flights. For missed leg flights, on split tickets, the individual airline should be able to demonstrate an advantage to travelling on one PNR, though they may need to update their wording. I’m in two minds about this case. You should turn up on time! I’ve made made a very similar mistake. It ended well for me, perhaps because I consumed a slice of humble pie before throwing myself at the mercy of the AA ticket office at MAN*.

    * Having missed my MAN – LHR leg, they changed my routing to MAN ->ORR->LAX->NAN for the outbound, and saved me a lot of explaining to beloved employer (and charged me just £60 for the change).

  7. Iberia lost a similar case in Spain 5 years ago, no idea if they appealed.

    Monday, September 24, 2012
    Iberia cannot cancel return tickets if passengers don’t make outbound journey

    A commercial court in Madrid has ruled that three clauses in Iberia’s contract of carriage are “abusive”, including the so-called ‘no-show clause

    more here:

    In spanish

  8. I know that bloke. Very odd to wake up to this story….

  9. Interesting case. If they’re sensible then Iberia won’t appeal this so that they avoid setting legal precedent – they seemed silly to fight it anyway given the small sum involved vs court costs!

    Of course this only said they had to refund the return leg, so not quite dealing with the other ex-EU flight of leaving from somewhere other than the UK but routing via London – always folk wanting to miss the first leg but this would only give them an ability to claim back flight costs, not to still take the itinerary if joining from London.

    • Its only a Deputy District Judge here. A part-timer whose knowledge and expertise may be in a completely different area.

      • I’m just meaning the lack of precedent, which they risk if they take it to appeal and lose…

      • Lesley says:

        That’s extremely dismissive. A deputy district judge could have been sitting for a long time and be considerably more experienced than a full time newbie. In my experience DDJs are quite capable of being better than the full time equivalent. The point here was James Dove was able to show that he was not trying to play the system but had a genuine need of both tickets – I suspect that may be key to a win and will not therefore help people who only want one part of a ticket and therefore do not turn up be able to claim. Also what you get is not the cost of the alternative but a refund of only the return journey – you lose the cost of the outbound journey. All airlines are being asked to do is refund the cost of the return leg if they cancel it.

  10. James says:

    To be fair to BA – during the recent IT meltdown, I was expecting trouble with the return leg as we didn’t take the cancelled outbound flight. There wasn’t.

    The return flight remained valid
    They provided EU Compo
    They paid for alternative flights we booked on another airline (they weren’t remotely in a position to rebook us as you know)
    They paid reasonable expenses
    Points posted for outbound flight

    This was the least I expected but they did it reasonably promptly with little fuss.

  11. This is dangerous. Surely the airlines will counter by creating special fares or something. E.g. LHR-NYC costs £1500 but the outbound is priced at £1499 and the return is £1 or something like that with the caveat that you only get £1 return if you buy a £1499 one way.

    • It is a fair point, but surely any Court would look through the form to see the substance and allocate say 750 to the return leg. They would surely take a dim view of the position taken by the airline. It might also create some interesting arguments for ec261 compensation in respect of the outbound.

    • Sounds similar to how railways often price their tickets.

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      That would also lead to other interesting situations where people on the return leg would be the first ones to be downgraded (here is your 70p compensation) vs people on an out-bound where £1,049.30 is due.

    • RussellH says:

      Or maybe airlines ought to consider just charging twice the single price for a return.

      I am sure that back in 1973 when I first started to use air travel the fare was distance related. I know that it was worth quite a useful sum flying GLA-DUB-BOS cf LHR-DUB-BOS single. A return would not have been much use as I had a three year contract. I returned by ship (Montreal-Southampton) in 1976 as I was able to bring three years accumulation of stuff (1 medium size flat bed truckload) for free.

  12. Last year when BA cancelled my outbound flight from City to Zurich on a Friday morning ( and offered me instead a flight from Heathrow on Sunday , which was ridiculous as I was going to Zurich for the weekend ! ) I took myself off to Gatwick on that Friday morning and got an easyJet flight to Zurich instead .
    I had no idea at the time that BA would automatically cancel my pre- booked return flight from Zurich to City just because they had cancelled the outbound flight . Luckily when I tried to check in on line and couldn’t , I called them and after much toing and froing they reinstated me in that return flight .
    Otherwise I might have turned up
    At the airport to be , once again, abandoned by BA !

    • This isn’t just a BA issue. Its much broader than that. Broader than IAG also.

  13. richard says:

    I would be very surprised if this means anything for “missed leg” flights. The circumstances are quite different and the cases can be distinguished.

    To use Raffles’ example above, I think it’s wholly reasonable for an airline to assume that if a passenger is booked onto AMS-LHR-HKG, but fails to turn up for the AMS-LHR leg, then that passenger is not going to show up for the LHR-HKG leg and to deny that passenger boarding at LHR (since they did not pay for a ticket originating in the UK). By contrast, Mr. Dove paid for his ticket from MAD-LGW but was denied boarding at MAD.

    In the UK at least, public policy is part of the courts’ discretion and I’m sure the courts would be aware that a ruling which allows passengers to join “missed leg” flights part-way through would completely undermine the ability of the government to raise APD.

  14. Oliver says:

    The judgement in itself is useless, what we need now is a regulation that states that airlines must now automatically refund/contact anyone that this has affected in the last 6 years.

    Same with EU comp, once they have paid out a claim, they should be bound to award compensation for the entire flight, and must make efforts to contact all passengers.

  15. memesweeper says:

    Plenty of things that airlines consider ‘normal’ would to a lay person seem ‘unfair’. Disallowing name changes on bookings (or charging massive fees for them) is a way for airlines to preserve revenue, as it prevents tickets being sold on, but for a traveller, such rules are unfair and unjust when a ticket can no longer be used and is non-refundable/non-changeable. If the courts start expecting airlines to behave like ordinary companies selling normal goods/services, they are in for an expensive shock. Could be great news for passengers if unfair terms and practices are struck down though.

  16. Steve says:

    This is an interesting case with Iberia, I am currently in a strange situation, I had a flight booked from Amsterdam to Tokyo with Qatar with some feeders booked with BA (London to Amsterdam). My Qatar outbound flight got rescheduled as the connection was to short. They offered to fly me from London instead so I could make my onward connections.

    Now the BA feeders I have booked is with a 1 night hotel stay which BA say wont be a problem, but as I need to cancel my outbound and keep my return they want to reprice the fare and change change fees. Surely booking a return and removing the outbound would make sense for the airline to cancel it for free. I am not sure what to do and does this case fit into this situation.

    Thanks for any replies.

    • Alex W says:

      Could you book a RFS back from AMS and just cancel the whole BA holiday?

  17. Gomigo says:

    ‪Rob I just noticed that Iberia Plus has made a quiet change to its combine avios rule. Avios can be transferred only from Avios / BAEC to Iberia Plus and not other way around. Also we cannot undo the transfer once it is completed. Any insights ???‬

    • Genghis says:

      Eh? Where did you notice?

    • the real harry1 says:

      the insight is you are just on the standard Avios transfer page and that’s what you normally see

      the IT is rubbish

      you can still move Avios about freely between the various bits of IAG, but you might need the help of the pushmi pullyu 🙂

      nothing to see, please move on 🙂

  18. I think we have to make a distinction here between ‘two singles’ and ‘a return’. If the pricing genuinely is on a single flight basis (i.e. you can buy the individual sectors at the price displayed) then it should be considered as such. If you need to buy a return to get that price then it’s fair for the airline to link the two together.

    So with this in mind,
    Ryanair – all singles (and they openly don’t cancel return legs if you miss the first)
    BA longhaul – return pricing, so no protected sectors
    ex-EU – normally fully married logic, so no protection
    BA shorthaul – Heathrow – also return pricing
    BA shorthaul – Gatwick – priced as singles
    (Yes I know this seems odd but it’s true, try it on, you’ll see what I mean!)

    So even if this case does hold, BA would only have to protect you out of Gatwick, not out of Heathrow.