Not one UK airline has been fined for breaking consumer law when it comes to flight refunds, delays or cancellations in the last 17 years, according to Which?.
The consumer champion is calling for the airline regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to be given extra powers to prevent carriers from feeling “empowered to break the law”.
The CAA cannot currently directly fine airlines found to be breaking the rules relating to refunding or compensating passengers – it can instead apply to the courts for an enforcement order, a court order that forces the airline in question to comply with the law.
But the organisation has only done so once since it was granted these additional regulatory powers in 2003.
It made the application against Ryanair in 2018, when the low-cost carrier refused to issue compensation to passengers affected by widespread industrial action that caused cancellations and delays across its network.
The case may not be heard until 2022.
According to Which?, tens of thousands of passengers have been touch with the watchdog and the CAA to complain about severe delays in receiving refunds and compensation from UK airlines during the coronavirus pandemic that saw flights grounded worldwide.
However, the regulator has yet to take any action, despite airlines having broken their promise to improve and speed up their refund processes, according to Which?.
Which? is calling for the regulator’s enforcement powers to be strengthened and extended, including enabling it to issue fines directly, allowing the CAA to move quickly to protect consumers’ rights.
“Without the ability to issue fines or take swift action against airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority has struggled to effectively stand up for the passengers it is there to protect,” said Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.
“Several airlines already know this, and there’s a real risk some have felt empowered to break the law as a result – and without the threat of penalties, they may continue to do so.
“Trust in the travel industry has been battered in recent months, so passengers need a strong regulator they can count on.
“It’s clear serious reforms need to be made to the sector – as a first step, the government must take urgent steps to ensure the CAA has the tools it needs to effectively hold airlines to account.”
The Independent has approached the CAA for comment.