Airline no-show policies may breach both the Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive, according to a new Which? report.
The consumer association said that airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic “are at risk of breaking consumer law by imposing rip-off ‘no show’ clauses – which they can use to cash in when a passenger misses the first leg of their journey”.
Many airlines have no-show policies in their terms and conditions, in part to stop “tariff abuse”, including the practice of customers purchasing return tickets which work out cheaper than a single flight, with no intention of using the outbound leg.
Which? said that 11 of the 16 airlines it looked at had no-show policies – of these Thomas Cook and Aurigny have already said they plan to drop the clauses. The association has now written to the remaining nine carriers, informing them that they may be in breach of consumer law.
Which? said that the clauses are often “buried deep in airline terms and conditions”, and that the policy enables airlines to “double their money”, as customers are typically not given a refund for the connecting or return flights.
The association said that “Passengers often only find out their tickets have been cancelled when they arrive at the airport for their return leg and are forced to buy another seat at a vastly inflated price, or pay a hefty fine – up to €3,000 in some cases – to use their original ticket”.
Which? has written to British Airways, Flybe, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, KLM, Air France, Singapore Airlines, Qatar and Swiss, asking them to respond by Friday December 28, adding that it had joined forces with consumer groups in nine countries across Europe “to stamp out the unfair practice”.
Air France and KLM are currently involved in legal proceedings with Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop, and KLM is set to face court action in the Netherlands and Greece.
Which? also points to a British court case in 2017, in which a passenger won compensation from Iberia. The judge ruled that the no-show clause was unfair as “there was not even a partial refund to the customer when he had intended to travel on the outbound leg on a direct flight”.
The association also highlighted Easyjet and Ryanair, which it said “have demonstrated that it is possible to operate successfully without taking advantage of passengers in this way”.
Commenting on the news Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
“Missing a flight because you’re stuck in traffic or on a delayed train is frustrating enough, but for the airline to then turn around and say your return journey is cancelled as well is completely unfair and unjustified.
“We don’t think there’s any good reason for a ‘no show’ clause to exist – it only works in favour of the airline. It should be removed immediately by airlines, who need to show more respect for their passengers.”
What Which? does not mention is that Easyjet and Ryanair have a different pricing method.
Both sell on a one-way basis. It means each tickets will form a separate contract. So if you miss the outward flight, the return is protected. Train operator Eurostar sells tickets in a similar fashion.
For network carriers who interline (with themselves or with other airlines) to do likewise would mean overhauling their tariff structures which, given the complexity on a global basis, is unlikely to happen.
If this were to become possible then millions of consumers would capitalise on the savings to be made. They would indulging in cross-border ticketing or throwing away the return half of a cheap excursion. It would therefore severely impact any global airline’s bottom line.
Which? does not mention these points.