Holiday firms urge PM to allow watchdog to fine airlines
Woman at the airport holding a passport with a boarding pass.Getty Images

Holiday companies have urged the prime minister to give extra powers to the aviation watchdog to directly fine airlines for service failures.

In a joint letter along with consumer organisation Which?, they called for stronger enforcement action if airlines fail to uphold consumer rights around refunds and cancellations.

It claims thousands of passengers have been subjected to “unfair treatment”.

The industry body for airlines said aviation was already highly regulated.

Many holiday providers cancelled flights and package deals this summer due to issues such as air traffic control restrictions and wildfires on Rhodes and other Greek islands, leaving British tourists in limbo.

If a service is disrupted, airlines are supposed to re-route passengers – even on a rival airline; or offer food, accommodation and in some cases refunds if a flight is cancelled.

The Department for Transport recently recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) be given stronger enforcement powers, including the power to fine airlines that fail in their duties.

But the letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims that too many people are being let down and urges him to lay out a clear timetable for when that might happen.

The CAA regulates airlines in the UK, but it currently has no power to directly fine them.

Instead, it can to apply to the courts for an enforcement order to force the airline to comply with laws around delays and redress. If an airline refuses, the court process can potentially end in an airline paying a fine.

Companies including loveholidays, On the Beach, Riviera Travel and Thomas Cook called on Mr Sunak to use the King’s Speech in November to introduce a Bill which would boost the CAA’s powers.

‘Ruined plans’

“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 CAA’s enforcement powers”, the letter said.

“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 it acknowledged that some of these issues were outside of airlines’ control, the group added: “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.”

Signatories on the letter also included organisations such as the Advantage Travel Partnership and the Association of Independent Tour Operators.

They called on the prime minister to “take immediate and definitive action” on behalf of holidaymakers.

The government declined to comment further on the Department for Transport’s recommendations following the letter to the prime minister.

In other countries, such as the United States, airlines have been hit with fines worth millions of dollars for failing to pay refunds for cancelled flights during the Covid pandemic.

The CAA’s joint-interim chief executive Paul Smith said the watchdog had “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,” he added.

But the organisation representing the aviation industry, Airlines UK, said the sector was “already a highly regulated and competitive sector, with airlines working hard to deliver for their customers”.

The industry body pointed out that the latest CAA consumer survey showed passenger satisfaction rates of 80%, which it said compared well with other types of transport.

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