Which? is calling for an investigation into potential consumer law breaches by EasyJet and urging the airline to improve its treatment of passengers on the eve of the big summer getaway.
The consumer champion has heard from passengers who were kept in the dark about their legal right to hundreds of pounds in compensation and the chance to be rerouted with other airlines after EasyJet cancelled their flight.
Some families were left to sleep on the airport floor or buy expensive new flights home after cancellations. They said being unable to get any help from staff had left them feeling “abandoned”.
Which? has reported EasyJet to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), asking the regulator to investigate and take action to protect passengers and their rights.
Among the stories shared with Which?, a husband and wife slammed the “absolutely shocking service” they received from EasyJet as they made their way home from celebrating their wedding anniversary in Santorini.
Damian McConville, 33, and his wife slept on the floor at Gatwick because no hotels were available and EasyJet had cancelled their connecting flight. They awoke at 3am to find their rescheduled flight had also been cancelled. EasyJet did not inform the couple of their right to compensation that could total £880.
Alexia Kaloudis, 24, from Surrey, said she was “passed from pillar to post” by EasyJet as the airline failed to reimburse her for alternative flights she was forced to buy. She was celebrating her partner Niall’s 30th birthday in Budapest and had to buy new tickets with a different airline after EasyJet cancelled her flight home. In total three claims she made for £305 were rejected and she only got her money back after she went public with her story.
Airlines are required by law to offer passengers whose flights they have cancelled rebooking to their destination at the ‘earliest opportunity’. Importantly, this means offering them a flight with an alternative airline if that’s the best option.
But Which? found EasyJet is directing passengers to the ‘Manage my booking’ section of their app and website and this only gives options to rebook on an EasyJet flight.
Matthew Siggins was on holiday in Athens in April when he received a text and email from EasyJet saying his flight home in two days had been cancelled. He requested a refund as he was not advised of his right to be rerouted with a different airline and the next EasyJet flight to Bristol was three days away. Nor was he told by EasyJet about his right to compensation (£220) due to the late cancellation.
To get home he booked a flight from Athens to Corfu with a Greek airline and then an EasyJet flight from Corfu to Bristol. The two tickets cost £80 more than his original return flight. He also had to pay for food at the airport in Corfu and airport transfers, but by claiming a refund on his original flight Matthew unknowingly gave up his right to claim back his expenses.
Last month the CAA promised enforcement action against any airline found to be “systematically letting consumers down”. The regulator and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said “passengers must be promptly informed of their consumer rights when things go wrong and – if necessary – receive compensation in good time”. Which? is calling on them to show they are serious about holding airlines to account.
However, the consumer champion is concerned that disregard of consumer rights law by airlines has become so routine that it demonstrates a systemic problem in the travel sector – and the CAA, with limited powers, seems powerless to intervene.
Which? previously reported British Airways to the CAA after it left passengers significantly out of pocket by not advising them of their compensation rights and failing to reroute them at the earliest opportunity with rival carriers. Which? understands the aviation regulator has been assessing our evidence and speaking to BA on this matter. However, nearly three months on, no enforcement action has been taken against the airline.
Which? welcomes proposals from the government for the CAA to get stronger powers. These must include the ability to fine airlines directly when they break the rules.
The government should make it mandatory for airlines operating in the UK to sign up to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system and establish a single, statutory-backed ombudsman scheme to ensure travellers can enforce their rights without having to go to court.
The fiasco of domestic and international flight cancellations shows why consumer travel protections must be strengthened, not weakened. The Department for Transport should shelve its plans to water down passengers’ rights to compensation when their UK flight is delayed or cancelled. This is a crucial deterrent against airlines cancelling or overbooking flights.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“EasyJet has treated its passengers appallingly, but this is just the latest example of a systemic problem in the aviation sector – some airlines routinely ignore their legal obligations because they know they won’t face any consequences.
“With thousands more flight cancellations potentially to come, passengers face a miserable summer unless the CAA and government act on their promises to stamp out consumer rights abuses.
“A major overhaul is desperately needed, so the government must give the CAA stronger powers so it can hit operators with heavy fines when necessary. Ministers should also drop their ill-conceived plans to slash compensation rates for domestic flights.”
Notes to editors
- In June the CAA and Department for Transport said in a joint letter: “If there is evidence that an airline is systematically letting consumers down when it comes to those rights, the CAA will not hesitate to escalate matters with its enforcement role.”
- Last week the government set out a 22-point plan for travel – UK government action to minimise disruption in the aviation sector and protect passengers
- Which? is asking that the Department for Transport safeguards and improves passenger rights, giving the air travel regulator greater powers to take action against airlines breaking the rules – Which? petition to transform travel and make it fairer when things go wrong
- Which? consumer rights guide – I had a flight cancellation, can I claim compensation?
Right of replies
CAA: “We thank Which? for its continued engagement regarding compensation. We will review its latest evidence thoroughly and will respond accordingly.
“We have regularly called for stronger consumer powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to take faster action when appropriate and bring our powers in line with other sectoral regulators.”
EasyJet: “We provide customers with a leading self-service tool which enables them to reroute quickly and easily on alternative flights where their flight is cancelled. This includes the option to fly to/from different airports within the same country, if they wish to.
“Where we are unable to offer a direct flight on easyJet within 24 hours, customers are able to secure flights by alternative carriers via our customer contact centres, however, we generally advise passengers to book these flights themselves, as this offers more flexibility and is the quickest way to secure a seat on the alternative flight.
“In these circumstances, we reimburse customers for the full cost of the alternative transport. This information is clearly displayed on our delays & cancellations help page.”
EasyJet added: “We clearly inform customers that if there are no easyJet alternative flights within 24 hours, they can book flights via an alternative carrier and we’ll reimburse them in full or they can choose a full refund.
“We clearly inform passengers of their EC261 rights via our notice of rights and delays and cancellations pages on our website, which are provided to customers should their flights be disrupted. Customers are able to submit an expenses claim easily via our expense form. We advise customers to provide itemised receipts to ensure these are processed as swiftly as possible.”
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation, we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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