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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.

  • Craig says:

    I have already posted about my calling BA a couple of days when I received the cancellation email and how, to be fair, the person I spoke with STRONGLY recommended against cancelling and told me to sit tight and wait.

    Anyway, on seeing some posts yesterday saying that alternate flights had now been loaded on, I tried again last night and the rep I spoke with was brilliant!

    Really knew her stuff and wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion on what BA had done with this route and how they were now handling the fall-out.

    Apparently, 2 hours after loading on the alternate flights, they were pulled again from the system for a couple of hours and they were told to stop moving people again.

    Then they reappeared, but with much less availability.

    Anyway, I have managed to get rebooked with Qatar, on the same dates, with a companion voucher and in business and I’m flying in November during the World Cup!

    It took nearly 45 minutes but we got there and it clearly makes all the difference who you mangage to speak to.

    Just worried now about people saying QR might cancel and no honour these bookings?

  • Lady London says:

    Is it too much to hope that the CAA is finally reading Headforpoints.com?

    And dare I breathe my hope that the Competition & Markets Authority is now alert to this disgraceful campaign against paasenger rights UK consumers finally got from Europe, by British Airways and others? And that one day perhaps, the CMA will *snatch* regulation of aviation’s interface with consumers, away from the CAA?

    Oh, wait… in background the airlines are also lobbying to have the UK261 version of EC 261 removed or watered down… Don’t worry anybody : the UK government will soon be along to fix these problems for you

    • John says:

      “ in background the airlines are also lobbying to have the UK261 version of EC 261 removed or watered down.”

      Quite disgraceful given that some airlines are averse to paying anything at all. Looking at you, Wizz Air UK.

      • SH says:

        I think the compensation can get a bit unfair in the passenger’s favour – if you go on a two week holiday long-haul and are a family of four delayed by four hours, yes it is an inconvenience but do you really deserve EUR2400, perhaps effectively giving you a free holiday? Some people may think so especially given the difficult economy, but personally it seems a bit much.

        Equally, if an employer pays for an employee’s flight and he is delayed, does the employee deserve a EUR600 payoff when he was on the employer’s clock the whole time he was sat in the airport lounge quaffing LPGS?

        What is disgraceful is when there is perfectly clear law about what compensation and expenses are and are not due, then trying to deny the fact, hope passengers don’t know their rights, imply the rights are one thing when it’s another, or make the process of claiming really difficult.

        Really the compensation should be automatic, and refunded through the original payment method for direct bookings or for corporate accounts. Travel agent bookings the passengers should be proactively contacted.

        The reform needed is to make payment of compensation a certainty, and to impose penalties for non-payment or delayed payment. This will incentivise airlines to use IT to manage this rather than minimum wage call centre workers who give terrible service, and the amounts can be reduced once regulators are satisfied airlines are treating customers better.

        • Brian78 says:

          Yes to both questions for me

          • Callum says:

            As much as I take advantage of it whenever I can, the compensation amounts can be blatantly absurd and aren’t imposed on any other organisation in any sector.

            While I won’t complain about it as I’m very happy at the £500ish compensation I’ve received from 2 delayed flights that caused me very little disruption (both only costing around £40), I don’t see how anyone can say that’s fair on the airline with a straight face. A Delay Repay style system with strictly enforced rerouting rights (e.g. if they can’t get you there the same day then you can reroute yourself on any airline and it must be immediately reimbursed without question) would make more sense.

  • His Holyness says:

    CMA/CAA please advise. How long is a ticket valid for? How long for airlines that don’t use tickets like Ryanair?
    How many days difference can a cancelled flight be changed to?
    What does Article 8 mean, what is the pax’s discretion?
    Does BA have to rebook to FR and vice versa?
    Is rebooking to other airlines permitted for any date?

    • SH says:

      As far as BA are concerned FR don’t exist – there is simply no way for them to book the flights through Amadeus.

      • callum says:

        BA only being willing to book flights through Amadeus is a self-imposed rule. I know Ryanair are funny about third parties booking their flights (though perhaps would be open to making an agreement with the likes of BA), but the only thing stopping a BA call centre agent opening up the Easyjet website and making a booking with a company credit card, or giving upfront approval for the customer to book the flight themselves instead of having to claim afterwards and hope it’s not disputed, is BA policy.

  • vetjames says:

    Has anyone had a rebooking success in the past 12 hours?

    • Rob says:

      A handful, yes.

    • PL says:

      Yes. I rebooked this morning on the silver line and my flights are a companion 2 for 1 in jan/feb. I was offered finnair, royal Jordanian or qatar. I asked about Jal and the lady said nothing available. I did not want to push it. So I accepted Qatar. However, I did not get the pick of the bunch with Qatar. The flights are same day but Only QR16 and QR 838 were the option. Returning, Only QR831 and QR15 were offered. I accepted. I have a bad feeling the Doh-Bkk may be angle flat but at least they will get us there. From what I remember, the agent said only I class is available for avios bookings.

      • Vit says:

        I called up this afternoon and had similar offers but could pick from various QR flight as long as it is regarded as codeshare (i.e. I was told not all QR flights are codeshare) through December. I changed the dates on both legs slightly but nothing major. I doubt it will be angle flat as for the worst / oldest seat configuration 2-2-2 on its old A330 you still have the lie-flat based on my experience last February, BKK-DOH leg. We should be fine surely. 🙂

  • Tim Jackson says:

    Just spoke to a friendly and sympathetic UK based BA agent. He agreed that best option would be to book me direct with EVA or Thai but his system wouldn’t allow it as the ‘Amadeus’ system they use is partitioned and won’t allow BA to book those airlines. I politiely quoted him all the regs / CAA letter but he knew all about it and basically agreed. I also told him that someone on this forum has clearly stated today that they have been booked on Thai by BA so it can be done. He said to write in via customer complaints which I have already done and he would do his best to pad out the notes for them to read. In the meantime I have rebooked myself on EVA air Premium economy on my original dates for a total £10,163! These are however fully refundable subject to £45 per ticket fee so I went for it. I will have to claim back of BA unless they agree to honour the regulations and abide by the law and pay me the difference of over £3500.

    • Lady London says:

      keep it below £10k per seat to keep it within £10k mcol limit per claim.

      You can submit a separate claim for seats in your booking keeping each claim under 10k then do mcol process separately for each, and ask the court if the claims can be considered together. Saves the court time so likely to agree I would say.

      Another poster reported they.just did mcol for the lead passenger and would expect BA to operate the judgment for that on the remaining passengers without actually doing an mcol for each. Logical and should work but I’m not sure BA wouldn’t make you go formal on each before they pay up or do the reroute they should.

      CEDR won’t let you combine cases in this way apparently, unlike MCOL

      • JDB says:

        There isn’t a £10,000 limit on MCOL claims, but you need the claim be under £10k to stay within the usual small claims track ‘no order as to costs’ regime. You can make claims up to £100k via MCOL. When issuing the claim online (rather than on paper), unless they have changed it, you can only have one claimant.

  • Frankie says:

    Maybe the BA agents are getting a wee bonus for each refund they can muster up from the BKK flights. Hence the gobbledygook some of them are coming out with!

  • Vit says:

    Rob et al, obviously we are also affected by the BKK cancellation by BA. We have our flights booked outbound mid-Dec and inbound late Feb. We were hoping we did not get the cancellation email till we are able to add our wee one (he is just 1 week old now). Not sure what is the best way to go about here? I guess we need to:

    1. Call BA up to get us rebook on QR or AY.
    2. Add our little one in the booking, paying full price for infant?

    Any words of wisdom of first-time parents are much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Vit

    • Rob says:

      Not much else you can do, but the baby will be a nominal cost anyway.

      • Vit says:

        Thanks Rob. Was on the phone to US CSA and was told as I used amex 2-4-1 voucher they cannot put me on to the QR or AY and only full refund option or rerouting. I kept mentioning about article 8, EC261 but no luck. Similar to other, I was advised to raise a complaint via online.

        • Vit says:

          Just further update after failed attempt with US based CSA. Called up and spoke to CSA based in Newcastle. All done within 15 mins. Switched to QR from EDI via DOH outbound on the semi final WC day. 😀 Last 3 seat in J or I, I was told.

    • Lady London says:

      Congratulations on the arrival of your little one Vit!

      I see you’ve got your priorities right… introducing them to flying at less than 6 months old 🙂

      • Vit says:

        Thank you! I obviously learnt from the wisest here. 😉 Will do some demo run by tagging him along with work trip to Norway in the coming months to see how we get on. I was torn between QR (break in between) or AY (one long run). Opted for QR as I think it might be a bit easier but I could be wrong! 😀

  • Richard says:

    I have exactly the same issue with Cathay Asia Miles – flying out of MAN with QR. QR cancel a flight and Asia Miles have no willingness to listen to EC261. My main remaining issue is how to take Asia Miles to MCOL – trying to claim against an overseas entity, albeit under UK law, doesn’t fill me with hope…..

    • John says:

      In that case I think you may be out of luck unless they have some UK assets you can send bailiffs to seize

    • Lady London says:

      your claim is on QR as it is the operating airline and you are covered as your departure is from UK.

      Look up the, at least 2 identical and fully discussed here in detail, cases we had involving ANA flights cancelled paid for with Virgin miles. Your case is identical.

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