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Ryanair and British Airways (BA) are currently under investigation, with watchdogs assessing whether the companies breached consumer laws by not offering customers refunds for flights they could not legally take due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched the investigation into the procedures taken by the two airlines to see if they breached consumer laws and according to their statement "left people unfairly out of pocket".
The CMA notes that BA offered vouches or rebooking and Ryanair provided an option to rebook instead of a refund.
Announcing the investigation, Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: "While we understand that airlines have had a tough time during the pandemic, people should not be left unfairly out of pocket for following the law.
Customers booked these flights in good faith and were legally unable to take them due to circumstances entirely outside of their control. We believe these people should have been offered their money back."
The UK has had three lockdowns between March 2020 to present and people were instructed to avoid all non-essential travel including a 19-week ban lasting until 17th May 2021.
BA said it had acted lawfully, adding that they have offered "highly flexible booking policies" during the government's lockdown restrictions.
A BA spokesperson said: "During this unprecedented crisis we have issued well over 3m refunds and helped millions of our customers change their travel dates or destinations and we're grateful to them for their ongoing support.
"We continue to offer highly flexible booking policies at the same time as operating a vastly reduced schedule due to Government-imposed travel restrictions, and we have acted lawfully at all times.
"It is incredible that the government is seeking to punish further an industry that is on its knees, after prohibiting airlines from meaningful flying for well over a year now.
"Any action taken against our industry will only serve to destabilise it, with potential consequences for jobs, business, connectivity and the UK economy.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said that the airline looked at refunds on a case-by-case basis, adding that they "welcomed" the CMA's update on refund policies. They said: "Ryanair has approached such refund requests on a case by case basis and has paid refunds in justified cases.
"Since June 2020, all our customers have also had the ability to rebook their flights without paying a change fee and millions of our UK customers have availed of this option."
The CMA launched their investigation in December last year after receiving complaints about refunds, cancellations and price rises after the first lockdown was implemented in March last year.
Andrea Coscelli said at the time: "We will be carefully analysing all the evidence to see whether any airlines breached consumers' legal rights by refusing people cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.
We recognise the continued pressure that businesses are currently facing, but they have a responsibility to treat consumers fairly and abide by their legal obligations."
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