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UK airlines warned by CAA and CMA over customer rights

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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.

  • Kamil says:

    My infant is going to turn 2 by the time virgin flies to HK again. Does it mean I will have to fork out another seat?

    • Rob says:

      Good question and obviously one not covered by the rules. You would hope they would see you all right. Of course, they can also try to insist you are rerouted on your original travel dates with another airline.

      • Adam says:

        I was rebooked multiple times on a cancelled booking since 2019. My daughter was under 2 then and she will be 5 when I take the flights in 2023 (hopefully) and BA rebooked her still as infant from the original booking and said the check in agent will assign seat for her and made a remarks. I don’t trust them so have a back up option.

      • Matt G says:

        I have just called virgin and they have refused to rebook me onto another airline. I quoted the law. I quoted the CAA letter (paragraph 14) and still said they have no flights available to rebook onto.

        • Kamil says:

          Would be nice to have a thread to see how everyone is getting on with trying to force Virgin to rebook us on alternative airline. I have 3 upper class tickets + 1 infant booked. If I book again it will be for summer hols next year or Christmas next year. Doubt they can book that late into the future.

  • Gruntfuttock says:

    As one of the ‘BKK cancelled multitude’ I thought I’d follow on PJ’s successful coat tail (1643hrs comment) and steeled myself for an agonising evening on the phone. Got through at 1830hrs after 25 mins ready for a civilised battle but was pleasantly surprised to be offered QR flights (early Feb ’23) that almost matched the original BA arrival time in BKK without any fuss and nonsense. Took about 15 mins to sort. Pleased the transfer time is minimal as the Doha Business lounge can be a bit of an echoy zombieworld at dawn. Coming back with FIN but that is a separate booking cos of original 241 failed attempt at a BA return back in April – long story yawn. Adrenaline now slowly draining from the day’s angst at previous reports.

  • Adam says:

    Rob – Will BA magic work with VS on HKG segment? Any insights to VS strategy in dealing with HKG pax and rerouting on AF/KLM?? Looking forward to hear some success stories before I try again.

    • Brian says:

      Second this question – my VS flight HKG-LHR was cancelled today. Called up the gold line and patched through to a senior agent, who said she can’t book an alternate flight on Singapore airlines (I know they’re still operating daily flights HKG-SIN-LHR; meanwhile AF/KLM flights to/from HK all cancelled) because it “doesn’t show on the system” for her to book. Such a lame excuse. Quoted EU261 Article 8 but to no avail.

      Should I have pushed harder? I know VS doesn’t have as strong a commercial partnership with Asia presence as BA. To what extent does the liability of re-routing goes for the airline, in cases where commercial partnership is of no help?

      • Jon says:

        If your email was the same as mine, it said they’ll be processing the cancellations over the weekend. You called too soon, I’m afraid. Try again next week.

      • Matt G says:

        Exact same. No alternative flights available. Refusing to rebook. Quoted the law and the CAA letter. Still said no. Option was refund, voucher or book after march 2023. Total shambles. Complaint logged. Will consider MCOL shortly

  • Stephen Orozco says:

    Hi,
    We were due to fly Avianca LHR BOGOTA on 22 July, 3 passengers two revenue one on points. On Saturday 16 July we got an email from AV saying our flight had been shifted to the 3 August. Called them and spent hours on the phone. They simply refused to offers us flights to Spain to catch one of their 3 daily services from MAD. In the end we had to pay an extra 1000 pounds to get to Madrid and AV refuses to pay any compensation. It’s not their problem and one agent told me to get the airport to reimburse us??? Since then my wife and daughter flew down to Colombia and then I flew last night. I spoke to a number of employees at both MAD and BOG and not one said sorry our found a solution to this issue. Any idea who I can purse the claim from? I’ve asked AV not to offload us on our return, but who know what will happen on August.

    • JDB says:

      Sorry to hear about this nightmare. You do in principle have a claim for reimbursement of your additional rerouting costs under EC261, but you might find it quite difficult to get paid. I don’t think you will be eligible for any EC261 compensation as it looks as though this was an airport ordered cancellation. Avianca isn’t part of an arbitration scheme so you will likely have to pursue them at MCOL if they won’t agree to pay up – they have several UK entities, so check which one sold you the ticket. Any reimbursement will depend on precisely what they told you when and the steps you took to rebook. They will say they offered you a rerouting that you refused… so having now transported you from MAD, they have done their duty.

      First, enjoy your trip and claim when you are back, but it would be prudent now to write down detailed notes of exactly what was said, by whom with times and dates and obviously keep receipts for all your extra costs of flights, food, transport etc.

  • Liz Lister says:

    I have been directed to this site by a friend who is more savvy than myself. I was flying home from Bangkok with my daughter on a companion voucher for business class. The word of cancellation came through and like others I searched Manage My Booking as instructed. There were no options so I did the run around by phone to be told there were no alternatives. I explained that I was nearly in tears at the disintegration of our much anticipated trip. No alternatives suggested. Reluctantly I took the refund and paid through the nose for alternative flights. I now feel such a sucker!!

    • PJ says:

      This is a disgrace and BA have treated you very unfairly, possibly illegally. I would contact BA immediately and ask them what they are going to do to rectify (don’t expect a good or reasonable response). I would then ask them to review the phone call you originally made and ask for a copy as you believe you have been treated unfairly and possibly illegally by not being offered any rebooking/rerouting options. Depending on the details of that phone call I’d write to both the CAA & CMA and then raise an MCOL for the difference in fare you paid BA and the new ticket. British Airways (and others) should not be allowed to continually get away with this.

  • Graeme says:

    Said it here before.. don’t expect to see much BA metal flying east of Doha in future.

    • JDB says:

      They will keep a few core routes, but you are right – they have never been able to make a go of SE Asia in particular. Too many cheaper options from carriers that are one way or another heavily subsidised. The same presumably applies to cargo as some oddly constant routes such as MEX and SCL are cargo reliant. Never understood why China didn’t work for them, even when it was really booming, Beijing & Shanghai were poor earners (great for Avios seats) so schedules/seats were cut and Chengdu was dropped years before covid when AY still managed many China routes.

  • Kat says:

    3 days of phone calls to BA trying to rebook and I’ve been given the usual no avios availability bullshit phone calls after phone calls and EU261 don’t seem to apply. It shouldn’t be like this. End of tether.

    • Paul says:

      Same here. Had BA flights cancelled to Barcelona in August and told I have to travel 2 days later as that is when BA have Avios seats available or take a refund. Flights are still operating via Madrid with Iberia but have been told 2 different tales of why I can’t be rebooked on to them. Firstly it was both flights need to have a BA code share numbers which one doesn’t. Secondly then told there needs to be Avios seats available which there wasn’t only cash. Is the call centre that deals with Avios flights outsourced? If you have issues with a cash flight you tend to get staff who know what they are doing and are helpful. Phone up over Avios flights and the staff haven’t got a clue, you ask to speak to a supervisor and are told they either won’t speak to you or they have been consulted and they also don’t know.

  • Jill (Kinkell) says:

    The level of ignorance of some CS agents is truly shameful. Management is entirely to blame for not training staff properly and staff spouting forth all this nonsense should be reported. I can award a Golden Ticket to a worthy individual, but there is nowhere to show up the clueless . Sean Doyle cannot be unaware … and certainly isn’t after the CAA and CMA letter. His remarkably low profile to date isn’t exactly encouraging.
    I’m heading to Rome in late Sept. and already dreading the Will I/ Won’t I get cancellation notices. Somewhat dampens the anticipation.
    I’m very grateful for the helpful comments and advice from several long standing HfPs … you know who you are!… who repeatedly take the time to respond to folk. BA should be recruiting you to train the agents!

    • polly says:

      Jill,
      You are so correct. Hfp are very ahead in this game. But the press have definitely been outlining the steps for re routing and comp a lot lately. I have been reading it, and hope people get the message.
      But to a novice or general member of the public it can appear daunting, taking all these steps. It’s repeated here hourly, daily, and we all are fully aware. Even tho, some of us battle, and have had to HUACA many times, to get a csa who knows the score. Thinking BA have just said “refund, refund, refund” and just a few like us in the know, will push for our rights.

      • yorkieflyer says:

        I think it’s a very charitable view that it’s staff ignorance, they’ve undoubtedly been given a line to pedal by management and a few long suffering and serving souls with integrity won’t play ball

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