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Airlines accused of breaking consumer law with rip-off ‘no show’ clauses

Which? is warning airlines that they are at risk of breaking consumer law by imposing rip-off ‘no show’ clauses – which they can use to cash in when a passenger misses the first leg of their journey.

The clauses – often buried deep in airline terms and conditions – mean passengers who miss an outbound flight can be considered a ‘no-show’.

All their connecting or return flights are then cancelled, typically with no refund given, and their seats can be resold – allowing the airlines to double their money.

Passengers often only find out their tickets have been cancelled when they arrive at the airport for their return leg and are forced to buy another seat at a vastly inflated price, or pay a hefty fine – up to €3,000 in some cases – to use their original ticket.

One traveller who contacted Which? told how she was forced to pay Virgin Atlantic an extra £1,354 to get home from New York – more than the £1,284 price of her original return flight – after she missed a flight from London and the airline imposed its ‘no show’ clause.

After finding that 11 out of the 16 airlines that Which? looked at used the clauses, the consumer champion has now written to nine carriers – including BA and Virgin Atlantic – informing them that the practice is potentially in breach of both the Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive.

After an initial approach by Which?, two carriers – Thomas Cook and Aurigny – have already said they plan to drop their ‘no show’ clauses.

Which? is joining forces with consumer groups in nine countries across Europe to stamp out the unfair practice.

Watchdogs in the Netherlands and Greece are today announcing court action against Dutch airline KLM, who along with Air France, have some of the harshest ‘no show’ terms. The two airlines are already involved in a legal battle with Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop.

The case for industry-wide change is strengthened by a 2017 British court case, in which a passenger won compensation from Iberia – which shares a parent company with BA. A judge ruled the ‘no show’ clause was unfair as there was not even a partial refund to the customer when he had intended to travel on the outbound leg on a direct flight. Spain’s Supreme Court also ruled against ‘no show’ clauses earlier this year.

Some airlines claim these practices are necessary in order to stop ‘tariff abuse’ – when passengers buy return tickets that are cheaper than a single flight.

But two of the biggest airlines in Europe – Easyjet and Ryanair – have demonstrated that it is possible to operate successfully without taking advantage of passengers in this way.

Which? has written to the airlines and asked them to respond by Friday 28 December.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“Missing a flight because you’re stuck in traffic or on a delayed train is frustrating enough, but for the airline to then turn around and say your return journey is cancelled as well is completely unfair and unjustified.

“We don’t think there’s any good reason for a ‘no show’ clause to exist – it only works in favour of the airline. It should be removed immediately by airlines, who need to show more respect for their passengers.”

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