No airlines have been fined in the UK for breaking consumer law in the past 17 years, according to new analysis.
Consumer group Which? claimed its findings show that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be given enhanced powers to crack down on carriers failing to give passengers the refunds and compensation they are entitled to.
Which? found that since the CAA was granted regulatory powers to seek enforcement orders in 2003, no airline has been fined in the UK.
It added that only one application for such action has been made in that time.
That was against Ryanair in 2018 over an allegation it refused to compensate passengers for delays caused by industrial action by its staff, but the case has yet to be heard in court.
Which? has accused several airlines of failing to pay refunds on time for flights cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic.
In July the CAA insisted its discussions with airlines resulted in them changing their practices and they are all now offering cash refunds.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “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.
“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.”
CAA director Richard Stephenson said: “Using the powers we currently have, we work with airlines to receive commitments and undertakings to improve performance for consumers.
“We have done this in many cases in recent years, including during our recent review into airline refunds during the coronavirus pandemic, which secured significant improvements for consumers, with call times and refund backlogs reduced.
“Receiving such undertakings is a formal use of our powers, and is the most immediate way of providing benefits to consumers as enforcement processes can take a considerable amount of time to complete given the potential for legal proceedings.
“We have called for more powers including the ability to impose fines in the past. This is something that would bring us in line with other sectoral regulators and would allow us to take stronger and faster action.
“Which? also has the same powers under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act when it comes to enforcement of consumer law, including Regulation 261/20014.”