News: Millions left out of pocket by airlines, Which? finds

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Approximately 2.3 million people across the UK have not received money back for flights they could not take in the last year, according to new research from Which?.

Since the UK went into its first lockdown in the middle of March last year, millions of people have had flight bookings that were not cancelled by the airline, but for reasons that were often out of their control they could not take, meaning that they were not legally entitled to a refund or guaranteed a successful claim through their travel insurance or bank.

Research from the consumer champion has found that approximately 2.3 million people across the UK have been left out of pocket for flights that were not cancelled, despite circumstances often meaning they reasonably – or in some cases, legally – could not travel to their destination.

Under EU 261 regulations, passengers flying on an EU-based carrier or flying from a country in the EU are entitled to a full refund within seven days if their flight is cancelled by the operator, but the regulations do not currently offer passengers any protection if their flight is not cancelled.

However, in some circumstances where passengers could not travel, it could be argued that the contract between the passenger and the airline had been frustrated.

Many passengers have been prevented from travelling because of local or national lockdowns, restrictions preventing entry at their destination, or the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advising against non-essential travel.

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Passengers in these circumstances would often have only been given the choice of rebooking their flight or losing their money.

Rebooking may have meant paying a significant difference in fare if the new flights were more expensive, and trying to choose new dates without knowing when international travel is likely to resume again.

Just over a quarter (27 per cent) of those left out of pocket said they were unable to fly because of restrictions in place at their destination that would prevent them from entering the country.

Others said they were unable to travel because the FCDO had advised against all non-essential travel to their destination, with nearly four in ten (37 per cent) citing this as their reason for not flying.

While those with package holidays would have had their bookings cancelled by the provider in these circumstances, entitling them to a full refund, many airlines continued to operate flights to countries with an FCDO warning against non-essential travel, on the basis that they needed to operate them as scheduled in order to facilitate essential travel.

While not illegal, travelling against FCDO advice usually invalidates travel insurance, and could potentially put your health at risk by visiting a country with high rates of infection.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “For almost a year now, Which? has been hearing from frustrated passengers who’ve been left out of pocket for flights they were unable to take, often through no fault of their own, because the flight went ahead as scheduled.

“While some have successfully been able to claim on their travel insurance or through their bank, others have been left high and dry.

“With non-essential travel currently illegal, airlines must play their part in protecting public health by ensuring no one is left out of pocket for abiding by the law and not travelling.

“All airlines should allow passengers the option to cancel for a full refund, as well as fee-free rebooking options, while these restrictions remain in place.”

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