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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 (, 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.

  • Jonny Price says:

    I’m not sure this gives the full story…

    As I understand it, airlines can take flights off sale without cancelling them – I assume in this case because they hadn’t yet made a decision about whether or not the route was going to continue. You don’t want to cancel/rebook customers only for the flights to operate. I also assume the current staff shortage issues have caused the cancellation – a decision they might not have made had the summer been more stable.

    Also, it would hardly be “thousands of customers” impacted if a route starting at the end of October was taken off sale in April… particularly in the post Covid world where people tend to book much closer to departure.

    On the alternative routing question – again, I understand airlines are only able to enter into conversations with other carriers once the flight has been cancelled, so there will be a gap between the flight being cancelled and alternative routings being available.

    • PeteM says:

      Do you work for BA’s PR, Jonny?

      • Jonny Price says:

        No I don’t but I’ve seen lots of comments on here previously about re-routing options not being available for a while after cancellation.

        And I can also understand the common sense of taking a flight off sale if you’re not yet sure if you’re going to operate it.

        Feels like this article (and most of the comments) are a bit melodramatic considering the circumstances. It is July – and this is about a schedule change in October…! Surely the cancellations on the day are a much bigger deal and much more inconvenient for people?

        • dougzz99 says:

          But you’re comfortable with putting the flight you’re not sure you’re going to operate on sale in the first place? It’s hard to see this as anything other than a cash grab.

        • Lady London says:

          Are you Jonny-come-lately, Jonny Price? If you’ve not been around for more than…. say, oh, about 3 days or so, then I can quite understand you might have missed that the abuses by airlines Rob covers in today’s article are being reported daily. Most days, a few more times than just 1.

          Airlines are not authority figures. And they are no longer public services. They are commercial operations out to make profit. Please people here, stop revering airlines.

    • Rob says:

      Eh? Tickets were on sale for the entire Winter season at the point of cancellation. Earliest flight was 6 months out.

      Even if you assume just 75 seats sold per flight on average you are looking at 13,500 tickets sold.

      • Jonny Price says:

        At the point of cancellation? But your article said the flight has only just been cancelled? Do you mean at the point the flight was taken off sale in April?

        I think any airline would be pretty pleased to have 75 seats sold on flights between six and 12 months out…. I’d be very surprised if it was that many. Only eager redemption seat finders book flights that far out…!

        • dougzz99 says:

          There may or may not be reference to this in the legislation. But taking a flight off sale and not cancelling it, is playing at working the rules. It’s a prime example of where a proper regulatory authority would be all over it.
          The CAA seems good at the safety aspect of regulation, but poor at the consumer protection stuff.

          • Lady London says:

            Easyjet takes flights off sale IMO for 1-3 weeks before cancelling them. Again IMO when I watched this last year, if a flight on
            my route went off sale at least 90% chance it would be cancelled.

            I find 1-3 weeks off sale reasonable for an airline to plan and make a final decision to cancel. But British Airways has been holding off cancelling flights they’ve clearly stopped selling months ago and that’s taking the p1…

    • Ivan says:

      Yes, I’ve always assumed BA only enters into discussions with other airlines about rebooking once the flight is actually cancelled for competition law reasons. Otherwise, they’d be effectively sharing information about capacity plans in advance.

      It seems a little unfair that this article makes accusations about BA based on supposition without offering a right of reply before publication.

      It is well known that rebooking arrangements gradually emerge a few days after a route cancelled.

      • Rob says:

        These flights were cancelled in April, to all intents and purposes, and no Bangkok flights have gone for 2 years.

        You’re also ignoring the fact that BKK is part of the Qatar joint business agreement so not only do Qatar have full visibility of all ticket sales, they are sharing the cash.

    • Richie says:

      The reg has been around since 2004/5, Article 8 gives absolute rights to passengers when flights are cancelled. Airlines know this but have continued to put flights on sale.

    • Hbommie says:

      The flights have been cancelled, a reroute is due and should be available at point of cancellation, the ‘wait a week or so’ is nonsense.

    • ChrisC says:

      “I understand airlines are only able to enter into conversations with other carriers once the flight has been cancelled”


      Airlines talk to each other all the time to put in place rebooking options for all sorts of circumstances.

      There is no restriction on only being able to talk once you’ve cancelled the flights.

  • Mike says:

    “not much between despair and ecstasy” – with BA it is more at the despair end of that spectrum!

  • TGLoyalty says:

    BA and Heathrow need a big fine. Enough is enough.

    • RussellH says:

      No, it is the BA BOSSES who “plan” these things that need to be fined. Fining BA just ends up as an extra “outgoing” in the bottom line, made up for by an increase in fares.

      Surely, if management are playing fast and loose with the law, then the law needs to come down on management.

  • sam says:

    interesting! i had BA companion flights BHD LHR AMM for sept 22.
    first they changed the AMM flight to the day before and 4 weeks later cancelled to LHR flight meaning i now have 7 hours in LHR rater than 3. i asked to be put on the Aer Lingus LHR flight and they could not do as avios booking, despite the code share. sounds as if they should have. should i retry?

  • Kat says:

    Nope – not getting anywhere with BA. We are on avios booking 2-4-1 and I was given the bullshit reply as there was no avios availability on Qatar, they cant rebook us and we only entitled to a refund. Guess we now have to go down MCOL?

    • Rob says:

      Call back. BA told me that agents have been told this morning to rebook.

      However a reader just sent me a transcript of a webcall he had 30 minutes ago where he was told to take a hike, so believe what you want …

      • Kat says:

        3 agents later, still the same story – it’s either no Avios availability, flights can only be rebooked up until 29th October or refund.

        • Rob says:

          I have it in writing from the BA press office that the call centre staff are making this up and it is not true.

          • Kat says:

            4th agent – quotes including “we are not legally obliged to fly you out there if there is no availability, the only option you have is refund” …”CAA guidelines are not our policy”… my husband is raring to go with a letter of action…

          • vetjames says:

            Making what up?

          • Rob says:

            The fact that you cannot be rebooked.

            Because of the Joint Business arrangement, in theory BA metal vs QR metal is identical and the Qatar flights are equivalent to BA flights in terms of how changes are made.

            This would be no different to a BA New York flight being cancelled and you being moved to AA, since they share out the cash anyway.

        • Lady London says:

          You do not need an avios seat to be available to reroute you into if BA cancelled a flight on your booking you have the right to any seat available (ie” being sold” is the proxy that currently works for this) in same cabin as you were cancelled out of.

          Give BA staff a chance to have their team meetings, do a day of shifts, read their inbox and get coffee if they’ve all now supposedly been told

          • yorkieflyer says:

            Yes but they’ve allowed/encouraged these lies from call centre staff for the last couple of years for cancellations. I don’t buy the line that they need to get up to speed, the honest agents shine through whether or not they’re being allowed to follow the law or not. Meanwhile the BA apologists have evidently popped over from flyer talk to dissemble

      • Kai says:

        I called earlier this morning and they told me that I could not rebook as no policies were in place. Will try again later

        • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

          I hope people are recording these calls. Even if not for assisting one’s own action, a consumer show would enjiy such flagrant p1sstaking.

          • Lady London says:

            In the US someone like the Department of Transport, after receiving a number of complaints over a long period, could choose to organise a raid on British Airways and demand all records and call recordings.

            They would then have a team take, say, every Bangkok flight and listen to all the conversations and create evidence packs of deliberate systematic failure to provide passengers’ rights. A court case would follow and British Airways, having been so tboroughly caught out, might ask for another 100,000 offences to be taken into account.

            Unfortunately management could only be led out of court in chains if a criminal charge could be brought. Even if caught redhanded and found guilty individually, sadly their Professional Indemnity policy paid for them by BA, would probably pick up the bill.

            But even a 30-second coverage on the eveing TV news, of BA’s offices being raided by the DoT, would be most heartening.

            America has the DoT. What do we have? A toothless CAA and Grant Schapps.

      • sam says:

        thx an hour on the phone to reduce time in LHR by 4 hours!

      • sam says:

        thank you Rob
        did so this am and had most helpful agent ever! (Jenny).
        she changed flight to aer lingus.

  • Paul H says:

    Aer Lingus cancelled my flight the day before due to staff issues. Despite the Uk Court of Appeal determining staff issues are not an “extraordinary circumstances” for the purposes of UK 261, Aer Lingus are adamant they are. I guess a trip to the County Court beckons….

    • JDB says:

      What Court of Appeal judgment is that?

      • Ken says:

        Presumably Lipton v BA City Flyer from 2021 in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

        Case No: B2/2020/0456

        Pilot calling in sick eventually ruled (on appeal) as not extraordinary circumstances.

  • killinghall says:

    These shenanigans (sorry, can’t book any other airline that we don’t have an agreement with) to enforce refunds have been a trick in BA’s book for a while. My flight got cancelled during COVID and BA would not book me on to an alternative option that wasn’t QR.

    The gall of BA “If we had been able to rebook your ticket to another British Airways flight, we would have done so. However, all our flights at that time were cancelled from xxx due to restrictions”

    I booked the alternative airline myself and then did a successful Section 75 claim against the credit card company to secure the difference.

  • vetjames says:

    Just off a 30 minute discussion with Joe from the Avios booking team. They have been told there are no options to rebook and that a refund is the only way forward — clearly, this is misleading.

    Apparently, Qatar revoked any commercial transfers at 1pm on 21st July.

    Some great quotes from the call:

    “Everyone on the BKK route is being done over, I have never seen anything like this before”.

    “We are not told about the legal rules, the leadership tell us what the policy is”.

    “BA will not change their stance, it is irrelevant what the law is. If we are breaking the law, why have they not shut us down”.

    “We are not legally obliged to rebook you, we can refund you”.

    “The whole of the rebooking team has a teams chat about BKK running at the moment. We are told there are no rebooking options”.

    “If I posted the CMA/CAA letter on the teams chat it would be bad for my career [take this to mean fired].”

    “90% of people will take the refund”.

    Nice work BA. Off to Grant Shapps I go…

    • Rob says:

      If you have this as a webchat transcript send it over and I’ll ping it out to the national press.

      • vetjames says:

        Just my notes from the telephone call, unfortunately. You’re free to quote this if you want. This is verbatim.

      • vetjames says:

        Another great quote I didn’t include above:

        “HFP don’t get things right and they don’t know the law…How do you know the CMA letter is genuine.” Joe

        “It’s on the domain so I think that’s legit”.

        “It could be fake, you get fake passports”.

        Oh dear…

        • Lady London says:

          @vetjames could you do a Data Subject Access Request on BA to get.a copy of the call? maybe ask for all calls related to a booking (or 2) in case they decide to lie about the recording for that particular convo being available

    • Lady London says:

      Brilliant. Thank you, thank you for posting these gems 🙂 . Made my day (as did Rob’s article).

      Perhaps the weekend newspapers will pick this up from HfP as a welcome break from “Sunak or Truss” ?

      • PeteM says:

        I think the sad key takeaway from this is: “90% of people will take the refund”.

        • Lady London says:

          Yes. An agent would not know that figure. Sounds like it’s come to them via their management.

          • James says:

            I think it’s an estimate coming from Joe rather than a specific data point he has been provided with.

          • PeteM says:

            My point is that it’s probably true, if not actually higher. So this approach is brilliant for BA.

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