Travel firms call for stronger powers for regulator to fine airlines

Group urges UK government to take 'decisive action on behalf of British holidaymakers'

Holiday companies have written to PM Rishi Sunak, calling for new enforcement powers to be addressed in the King's Speech in autumn. PA
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Holiday companies have called on the government to take stronger action against airlines that fail to uphold consumer rights.

They want industry watchdog the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be given extended powers to fine operators, which it cannot currently do.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which was sent jointly with consumer champion Which?, the companies urged the government to take "decisive action on behalf of British holidaymakers".

The operators, which include loveholidays, On the Beach, Riviera Travel and Thomas Cook, called for the King's Speech on November 7 to include a Bill focused on strengthening the CAA’s capacity to enforce breaches of consumer rules.

"As a coalition of consumer advocates and travel companies, we urge you to show your support for British holidaymakers affected by this summer's air travel disruption by agreeing to strengthen the Civil Aviation Authority's enforcement powers through this autumn's King's Speech.

"This summer has seen the all-too-familiar sight of holidaymakers' plans ruined by air travel disruption; this time through UK and European strike action, thousands of summer flight cancellations and the terrible environmental impact of wildfires.

"While some of these issues are outside of airlines' control, they are routinely failing what's in their control: to uphold their customers' legal rights to rerouting and refunds, and provide clear and timely passenger information."

It comes after thousands of flights to and from UK airports have been cancelled this summer due to issues such as air-traffic control restrictions and wildfires on Rhodes and other Greek islands.

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Many affected holidaymakers claim airlines have ignored their legal responsibilities during disruption, which can include booking customers a ticket with a rival airline so they reach their destination as quickly as possible, and providing meals and overnight accommodation.

Airlines are supposed to reroute passengers, offer accommodation and issue refunds, in some cases, if flights are cancelled.

At the moment, the CAA can apply for an enforcement order via the courts to make an airline comply with the law, which may – or may not – result in an order to pay a fine.

The Department for Transport last month said in its response to a consultation that the CAA would be given the power to fine airlines but gave no timescale for when legislation would be introduced.

CAA joint-interim chief executive Paul Smith said: "We have long called for a stronger enforcement toolkit to bring us in line with other UK regulators.

"The plans recently announced by the government would achieve this and help ensure that the UK Civil Aviation Authority is better equipped to hold the industry to account in meeting their obligations to passengers."

In June the government dropped plans to entitle more passengers to flight delay compensation from initial reforms aimed at protecting consumers.

It launched a consultation last year on allowing travellers to claim payouts for domestic flights that arrive at their destination an hour late.

But the government said “further work” was needed before the rules were changed.

Updated: August 21, 2023, 7:49 AM