Tougher powers will be handed to the aviation regulator after passengers struggled to get refunds when flights were grounded during the coronavirus outbreak, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced.
The plan to give more teeth to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was announced in a report by the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce as part of efforts to “build consumer confidence and develop trust in booking travel”.
Consumer group Which? previously accused the CAA of “failing” passengers over its lack of enforcement action on refund delays.
UK consumer laws say passengers are entitled to cash refunds for cancelled flights within seven days, but during the pandemic many people have had to wait several months for a payout or been offered vouchers.
The DfT said latest data suggests airlines are now paying “the vast majority of refunds in a timely manner, within 14 days”.
The CAA has the power to launch court action against aviation businesses, but this normally takes several years.
The organisation instead relies on communication with firms, and in July 2020 it said this approach had led to all airlines offering cash refunds.
Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said: “It is encouraging to hear plans to give the CAA greater powers to tackle the consistent law-breaking we saw on refunds from some airlines in the last year.
“These must be sufficiently tough, and give the ability to fine airlines directly for past behaviour to ensure they won’t step out of line again.”
Details of the enhanced powers will be included in the Government’s aviation strategy due to be published later this year.
The DfT announced it will “review the need to modernise the powers of other transport mode regulators so that all passenger rights, domestic and international, are protected”.
A passenger Covid-19 charter will be introduced by May 17 – the earliest date foreign leisure travel can resume for people in England – to set out “consumer rights and responsibilities”.
The Government has also extended its backing for the Air Travel Trust Fund until September 30 next year.
The decision means holidaymakers with Atol bookings will continue to be protected if a travel business collapses.