The aviation regulator is being urged to ban rip-off “no-show” clauses – which airlines can use to cash in when a passenger misses the first leg of a return flight.
Under current regulations, airlines are entitled to cancel a “no show” customer’s connecting or return flight, typically with no refund given. In some cases airlines are effectively able to double their money by reselling the seats they cancel, with no refund given to passengers.
Consumer group Which? wrote to nine airlines at the end of last year informing them that the practice is potentially in breach of both the Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive. It said only one airline, FlyBe, had agreed to make some changes, but it has not removed its “no-show” clause completely.
In a report released last week, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) concluded that a policy of automatically cancelling a passenger’s return if they do not take the outbound flight needed to be made “fairer and more proportionate”.
It also said that “no-show” clauses used by some airlines –including British Airways – fell short of its expectations on “fairness and transparency” for consumers.
Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: “It’s totally unreasonable for an airline to cancel a passenger’s return flight – often without warning – simply because they’ve missed the first leg of their journey.
“Airlines have been able to cash in with this tactic for too long – leaving people miserable, stranded and hundreds if not thousands of pounds out of pocket.”
She added: “If airlines are not going to do the right thing and stop this disgraceful practice on their own, the Civil Aviation Authority should step in and ban these rip-off clauses.”
In one case reported to Which? theatre director Kate Golledge and her 18-month-old baby were stuck in Singapore and had to hand over £600 to Malaysia Airlines to get home to Britain after she decided to book an earlier outbound flight for personal reasons – despite being assured otherwise by customer service staff.
In another, Laura Kidd, a musician from Bristol, had to buy a new return flight from Portland to Heathrow for nearly £700 after work commitments meant that she was unable to take her scheduled outbound flight. Ms Kidd said she did not receive any notification from Virgin Atlantic or her travel agent Jetabroad, and only found out as she checked in for her flight back to Heathrow.
A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said the airline would change its policy.
It said: “We would never want to disappoint our customers, and we are sorry for the distress caused to Ms Kidd when she missed her flight. As soon as customers know that they may miss their flight, we would always urge them to get in touch with us or their travel agent, so they can make alternative arrangements as quickly as possible.
Malaysia Airlines said: “The airline’s no-show policy automatically cancels an onward booking when a passenger fails to reconfirm their intent to travel onto onward segments. For commercial reasons, if a passenger does not board one sector of their journey, the airline assumes that the passenger will not be travelling onto onward segments of their itinerary, unless the passenger informs the airline otherwise.”