A former transport secretary has called for “much-need reforms” to the CAA’s powers to force airlines to issue refunds to consumers without “inexcusable delays”.
Conservative peer Lord Young highlighted “tens of thousands of passengers” who had complained to the CAA about delays in getting their money back from cancelled flights during the pandemic.
He called for the government to “bring in much-needed reforms to enable the regulator to take swift and effective action to protect consumers when the law is broken”.
Young made his call during questions to transport minister Baroness Vere in the House of Lords on Wednesday (30 September).
“The CAA has a range of powers available to it to take a proportional and pragmatic approach to enforcement,” responded Vere.
“A number of conversations have taken place, in particular bilateral engagement between the CAA and individual airlines to encourage them to refund more quickly.
“The pandemic has highlighted a number of challenges and my department is keen to work with the regulator, industry and consumer groups to learn lessons and make changes in the future.”
Lord Rosser said that the last time an airline had been fined for breaking consumer law on refunds was 17 years ago.
“In the same period, as I understand it, the CAA has applied for an enforcement order only once,” he said.
“In the light of that, is the minister confident that all airlines have done everything they could to comply with statutory consumer rights this year, and does she think that they feel under sufficient pressure to ensure that they comply with statutory consumer rights?”
Vere insisted that airlines were “feeling under great pressure from all sides at this moment” and the refund situation was improving.
“The CAA works very closely with the airline industry. Its review, which it launched at the end of July, looked in great detail at the refund policies and practices of each airline,” she added.
“There has been a significant improvement since that review. The CAA is taking a balanced and proportionate approach to enforcement for the time being.”
Several lords also spoke about their own personal difficulties in obtaining refunds for cancelled holidays this year.
Lord Pickles highlighted the recent resignations from Abta of online travel agencies loveholidays and On the Beach “to avoid paying full refunds on cancellations due to Covid-19”.
He asked the government to look at “regulations and in particular at the alleged loophole that suggests that if the Foreign Office advises against travel and yet the company itself keeps a flight and the accommodation open, a full refund is not payable.”