Airlines accused of 'ripping off' passengers by not scrapping 'no-show' clauses

A British Airways flight arriving at London's Heathrow airport. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

Airlines have been accused of “ripping off’ customers under the pretext of “no-show” policies, which automatically cancel a passenger’s return if they do not take the outbound flight.

On Friday, consumer body Which? called for no-show clauses to be banned in the UK – just as they were in Austria in April – calling them a “rip off”.

However, airlines including British Airways and KLM are refusing to scrap no-show policies.

Which? wrote to nine airlines in December, warning that no-show clauses unduly penalises passengers and could be breaking consumer law.

But seven airlines – British Airways, KLM, Emirates, Air France, Singapore, Qatar and Swiss – have told Which? they will not remove these clauses.

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This policy often costs passengers hundreds of pounds, as they are forced to shell out for replacement tickets – with no refund of the original fare.

In many cases, the ticket is sold on by the airline – doubling the earnings made from the seat.

One customer told Which? he was forced to pay £600 to British Airways after he and his wife were barred from their return journey from Pisa to London.

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They had to travel to Pisa via an alternative company when British Airways cancelled their original flight due to a strike, only offering them a replacement two days later, the customer explained.

British Airways has defended the policy, calling it “common industry practice” designed to stop “abuse” of its fares.

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A spokesperson said: “We believe that being upfront with customers is essential, so we work hard to give them the information they need when travelling with us, and ensure that our terms and conditions are very clear on our website.

They added: “Many of our tickets allow customers to make changes to their flights if they inform us before they travel.”

In a report published last week, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the policy needed to be made “fairer and more proportionate”.

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Following pressure from the CAA and feedback from customers, Virgin Atlantic, despite previously having told Which? it would not remove clause, has updated its policy.

Customers are now encouraged to contact Virgin before they miss their flight to avoid the second leg of their journey being cancelled.

A representative said: “If the customer can’t contact us before they miss their flight, they will need to contact us as soon as they can, and if there has been a legitimate change in circumstances, we will reinstate their inbound ticket.”