Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

UK airlines warned by CAA and CMA over customer rights

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

This may or may not be a coincidence, but just a few hours after British Airways attempted to stitch up passengers booked to Bangkok this Winter, the Civil Aviation Authority and Competition & Markets Authority issued a joint threat to UK airlines – respect the legal rights of your customers or else.

You can see the letter sent to the airlines yesterday by clicking here (gov.uk, PDF).

UK airlines warned by CAA and CMA over customer rights

The letter implies that many airlines are failing to meet their legal requirements when dealing with customers. To quote:

We are concerned that some airlines may not be doing everything they could to avoid engaging in one or more harmful practices, including:

  • selling more tickets for flights than they can reasonably expect to supply and failing to warn consumers about the ensuing risk of cancellation;
  • not always fully satisfying obligations to offer consumers re-routing (including with alternative carriers where necessary) in the event of cancellation; and/or
  • failing to give consumers sufficiently clear and upfront information about their rights on cancellation, and/or to provide adequate and appropriate support and care where flights are cancelled or disrupted.

Anyone who booked a British Airways flight to Bangkok for this Winter may be having a wry smile at this point.

British Airways Bangkok flight cancellations

What has happened with British Airways flights to Bangkok?

As we reported on 9th April, British Airways decided over three months ago that it would not operate flights to Bangkok during the Winter season which starts on 29th October.

All flights were removed from sale in early April. However, passengers who had booked on these services were not told that they were cancelled.

Our article on 9th April caused a lot of concern for people who had British Airways tickets booked to Bangkok. People who called BA were told that they could not be rebooked because their seats had not been officially cancelled.

I was prepared to give BA the benefit of the doubt here. We are talking about many thousands of customers needing to be rerouted, and it made sense to wait until the call centre was running efficiently.

This week, BA finally emailed people with a Bangkok flight booking for this Winter.

Passengers were told, effectively, that their flight was cancelled and that they qualified for a refund. There was no attempt to offer them a rerouting, despite their legal right to one.

Even worse, when passengers called British Airways, they were refused a rerouting on the grounds that British Airways did not have any commercial arrangements in place. When pushed, agents said that they thought something might appear in the next week or so.

British Airways Bangkok flight cancellations

What Head for Points readers had to say

Here are some examples from emails I received this week:

“Was on hold for an hour to be told only option is a refund. I assume they’re legally obliged to switch to another airline even tho it’s a way off?”

“BA finally emailed us tonight to cancel our flights to Bangkok in Feb 2023. We went into Manage Your Booking as they suggested and there were no flight alternatives. We phoned BA and after 1 hour of call queuing we finally got through to a lady who told us that there are no alternative flights (even though BA are selling the Qatar flights on their website) and our only option is a refund. We quoted article 8 of EU regulation 261/2004 but to no avail!!”

“My flight to Bangkok was just cancelled (jan-23). Called BA and they said they don’t have any agreements in place with other airlines to book me an alternative flight and I should call in few weeks. Are they just trying to get me get a refund? I insisted that EU reg says they need to book me on an alternative flight (not my problem if they have no agreements in place). The lady said she can’t do anything and terminated the call. Shall I call and insist I want an alternative flight regardless if they have agreements?”

“Just called against the Executive Club and they said no reward availability with Qatar / Finnair and try to call commercial team as they can only book Avios seats. Is that true? Being sent back and forth between British Airways call centres.”

Agent said he can’t help me and he can’t comment on what the EU law says about my rights. Looks like they have been advised not to reroute. Unbelievable! Is there somewhere where I can report this?”

This one arrived late on Thursday evening:

“Just got off the phone with BA on the American number. The agent said they’ve had a new directive today stating “under no circumstances can they change companion vouchers to other airlines for the cancelled BKK flights” so only option is a refund or look for other Avios availability in same zone (not that anywhere close is in the same zone). Surely Illegal?”

(For clarity, yes, this is against EC261 which clearly states: “This Regulation …. shall apply to passengers having tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme or other commercial programme by an air carrier or tour operator“)

Why this is not acceptable

Now …. if a route is cancelled at short notice you could excuse BA for not being able to put a rerouting deal together quickly. However:

  • British Airways has been rerouting Bangkok passengers for almost two years now – Rhys on our team was rerouted on Qatar Airways when he went to Bangkok earlier this year on a 2-4-1 Avios ticket
  • BA removed Winter 2022 flights from sale in April – it has had over three months to put alternative arrangements in place (and these arrangements were already in place anyway, as Rhys found in February)

As the CAA and CMA say in their letter:

When cancelling a flight, airlines must offer re-routing, either using their own flights or if they cannot offer a timely replacement with another carrier. We consider that professional diligence requires airlines to have in place reasonably appropriate organisation and support staff to source replacement flights and complete the booking if consumers wish to take up this offer.

Just because BA has not been able to agree a cheap deal with Qatar Airways or another carrier to take Bangkok passengers does not change its legal liability – it will simply have to pay more for those seats.

My best guess is that British Airways has been deliberately encouraging passengers to take a refund. It has had over three months to put rerouting deals in place so getting call centre agents to say ‘it may take us a week or so to sort something out’ simply doesn’t cut it.

I reckon, in a week or so when most passengers have taken a refund and rebooked by themselves for (presumably) a higher fare, British Airways will magically turn up with a rerouting deal for those people who are determined to push for their legal right.

(EDIT: In the last few hours there have been reports of successful rebooking on Qatar Airways.)

We are happy to pass on these reader emails to the CAA and CMA if they want to know more.

The CAA and CMA letter to the airlines is here.

Comments (311)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Nick says:

    Let’s not just ignore our customers, let’s ‘manipulate’ them too, if we can save some money! If we lose them as customers, do we really care? IMHO!

  • Track says:

    The root cause of this seems to be HAL operations — if the airport not limit airlines so severely, the airlines would not need to seek ways to cut.

    (Appreciate Bangkok decision was made in April but it is reasonable that BA were thinking to resume it or not. After all, why would that be an unprofitable destination.)

    • Bagoly says:

      Bangkok is presumably largely a leisure destination, so why did they not move it to Gatwick? Or cut the frequency?
      If because there were too few passengers, why not reroute on Qatar?
      If the reason for cutting the service was because the ratio of sold tickets was too heavily towards Economy, and Qatar charging much more, then why not sell remainder of Economy at high prices?
      It just seems odd to alienate so many more people in a worse way than necessary.

    • Brian78 says:

      Doesn’t matter what the root cause is

      • Track says:

        It matters, yes there are legal obligations and since they are enumerated, it is easy for CAA and CMA to go after BA.

        However, an airline is a business. If the infrastructure is a disgrace (eg how HAL is run this Summer) that pushes things onto an airline. Same with rail, if infrastructure not robust and well maintained, then endless cancellations and problems ensue, doesn’t matter what the obligations of train operating company are.

        • Brian78 says:

          No it doesn’t matter in this case. They’re dodging their legal obligations.

        • John says:

          Legal obligations are the only thing that matters from a passenger perspective. If a train company can’t get me to my destination because the rails have melted, then they must pay for my taxi or hire car as long as that was a reasonable alternative route.

    • John says:

      BKK is a low profit or loss making destination because nobody wants to pay £3000+ for J like they do (or perhaps did) on other routes. Why do you think it has always had the worst aircraft in BA’s fleet

    • md11 says:

      This is after the HAL flight cap expires- article above says BA were due to fly this route in the winter

  • Sapiens says:

    In this situation BA is knowingly and deliberately acting in bad faith, to screw over their customers.

    Worth remembering this for next time someone interviews the CEO / management.

    • Erico1875 says:

      I think Sean Doyle’s legacy will be ,after Cruz, he continued and advanced the downward slide of BA customer care.

      • Marcw says:

        Did you honestly expect anything better? He just knows how to count olives.

      • Charles Martel says:

        Like prime ministers, each time you think we’ve hit rock bottom, somehow the next BA chief seems to be worse.

  • Stu p says:

    Funnily enough yesterday spoke to a friend who has been rerouted on Qatar to BKK with a companion voucher. Maybe luck of the draw with which agent you get?

  • Ben says:

    Data point re easyJet rerouting: they cancelled my flight to Verona whilst I was at the airport so I booked myself on a last minute BA flight to Venice at the exorbitant price of £575. Just heard to my surprise that they are covering the flight cost in full.

    • Andrew says:

      They covered two £800 flights to Sicily after they cancelled last minute – no hassle and refund received in 3 weeks. Pretty impressive I think.

    • Paul says:

      They didn’t Ave a choice

  • Alex says:

    A lot of the agents are astonishingly clueless. Came across one recently who tried to refuse rebooking after cancellation on another BA flight, on the basis that the new itinerary required an overnight connection and ‘BA doesn’t sell those’. Eventually got through to someone competent but took 15 calls which were mostly answered with ‘we can’t take your call right now as we’re busy’.

    • Nick says:

      Sadly, that’s the case with numerous corporations now. Staff retention is a big issue. Dare I say it, but this is now often, especially the case, with younger employees. The whole office based environment (if indeed in an office, not working from home) has changed significantly in recent years, with, again, in many cases, staff sitting all day with the newest ‘ear candy’ stuck in their ears, preventing any communication between them. Any ‘loyalty’ to your employer has diminished, and employees will just walk for a few pounds more.

      Corporations need to address this somehow, or customer service will just continue to fall, with the customer, as you imply, probably knowing more about the company than the employee.

      • Brian78 says:

        “Any ‘loyalty’ to your employer has diminished, and employees will just walk for a few pounds more.”

        Good. People shouldn’t be loyal to their employer. They wouldn’t be loyal to you if they had to make savings etc.

        • Nick says:

          Sadly, it sounds like you’ve probably never worked for a good employer?

          • Brian78 says:

            I have but when a better offer came along, I moved. Why wouldn’t I?

          • Rob says:

            Because life’s too short to work for a toxic employer?

            I doubt you’d marry a convicted spouse beater purely because they earn more than your last partner.

          • dougzz99 says:

            How much more?

    • numpty says:

      its more than just being clueless, some seem to making up their own rules and that’s what i really don’t like. The wrong advice they give to one person they will be giving to other customers too – all day every day. It is one of those situations i dislike where you have to insist they go speak to their supervisor (in a polite way). I’ve almost lost an entire holiday due to a CS attitude and had to insist they go check.

      • Brian78 says:

        “Because life’s too short to work for a toxic employer?”

        Why does moving jobs mean you’re moving to a toxic employer? Who said anything about more money?

        “Better offer” could mean the same money but a better company, better work life balance etc

        It’s fine being comfortable in the same place but its good to get out of your comfort zone and try something different now and again.

  • Metty says:

    I’ve been watching Qatar/Finnair availability for the last few months as I was expecting a re-routing call/email. Like others, with a final destination of Phuket, I was hoping for a mutually agreeable outcome although BKK would be fine. I have called in two or three times, bizarrely thinking that being GGL is worth hanging on to as call centre wait times have been short (not so sure now). I have been given the same party line, that the flights are not on sale but not cancelled.

    Qatar availability for our November dates has, as expected due the World Cup, now disappeared. There was lots when the BA flights were taken off sale, but we were refused re-route, told to wait and now, months later, if I do as BA are trying to get us to do and cancel, I lose 2x 2-4-1s and 4x GUFs which under the latest BA policy will have expired.

    I’m disappointed with BA as it looks like they’ve played us in a way that we often play them, except we don’t/can’t flout the law like they are.

    It’s a shame that the hotel airline focus group session isn’t this week, as the delightful reps who were picking our brains for ideas how to get back in the UK airline loyalty game bigtime would be fascinated why on earth anyone would remain loyal to BA after this sort of customer experience!

    • Brian78 says:

      “why on earth anyone would remain loyal to BA after this sort of customer experience!”

      No one should be loyal to any airline. I’ve got loads of avios and use them now and again when it’s convenient for me/the best option but I’ve never even got close to being bronze

    • numpty says:

      Rules for a cancellation allow rebooking on a different date, that may help you salvage something when eventually BA let you rebook on QR.

      • Metty says:

        Thanks, will see what the response is when I say we’re happy to be rerouted via any carrier to BKK or HKT for any 10-13 night period between Nov 22 and Mar 23.

  • David says:

    Similar story with Hong Kong flights earlier this year, although they notified in weeks rather than months.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.