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‘Gross violation of consumer rights’ among airlines as flight chaos threatens summer getaway | Economic news

A consumer rights expert has accused airlines of presiding over a ‘blatant disregard’ of their obligations to passengers following recent flight chaos which threatens to continue into the summer holiday season.

Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at consumer group Which?, told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee of MPs that there had been serious and historic failures on the issue of the respect for passenger rights and compensation and that the industry regulator had proven useless in holding them to account.

She was speaking as the committee held a hearing on the recent flight cancellation period during the mid-term break – many of them on very short notice – as airlines and airports grapple with staff shortages.

There were long queues at airports and many frayed tempers, with thousands of passengers learning by text that their flight would not depart, sometimes hours after the scheduled take-off time.

Ms Davies said of the disruption: “Airlines and government were encouraging people to travel again, and we think they simply underestimated the capacity issues and shortages both within airlines and airport services, including baggage handlers.”

She also accused the airlines of selling tickets when “they don’t know for sure that these flights are actually going to be able to go”.

British Airways and easyJet, for example, laid off staff despite taxpayer support for wages as the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 – forcing international travel to a halt as lockdowns were imposed.

The sector as a whole also saw tens of thousands of workers leave of their own volition as flights were grounded and airports looked like ghost towns.

The aviation industry accuses ministers of a lack of communication on the reopening of the skies, which has hampered recruitment.

He also lamented delays of more than three months for new staff in obtaining crucial security clearances.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association industry group, told the committee she could not guarantee the issues would be resolved in time for summer vacation. Airlines echoed that sentiment, but said every effort was being made.

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“We will think twice before traveling again”

The Civil Aviation Authority proved to be “toothless”

Oliver Richardson, national air transport officer at the Unite union, told the committee the industry had been too quick to lay off people, while many experienced staff had taken advantage of severance offers during the emergency public health because the packages were more attractive.

Lisa Tremble, director of general affairs at BA, defended its decision to lay off more than 10,000 workers on the grounds that it was losing £20m a day in spring 2020 and said the airline had behaved in the “as responsibly as possible” at the time.

She said BA was currently looking for an additional 6,000 people and would not confirm in response to questions that it was now to blame for its own staffing difficulties.

Representatives from TUI and easyJet also apologized to customers for the disruption, but denied suggestions from consumer groups that their compensation policies covering delays and cancellations were opaque and burdensome.

Mrs. Davies from whom? said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had proved powerless in its oversight of industry obligations.

Watchdog could impose its own fines

She told MPs: “We always see airlines seem to be booking flights, when they don’t know for sure that those flights will actually be able to leave.

“We have seen people receive information at very short notice, and have not really received adequate information about their rights.

“We think there are obviously very specific issues right now in this case, but it’s just symptomatic of some of the issues that we’ve been seeing in the industry for a long time.

“There is just a blatant disregard for consumer rights and a failure to put the interests of passengers first.”

Richard Moriarty, the head of the CAA, denied it had stranded passengers and cited the recent Supreme Court action against Ryanair as an example.

But he admitted his powers “are weak in the modern circumstances” of aviation and welcomed an announced government consultation on boosting its ability to hold the industry to account.

This could give the watchdog the power to impose its own fines rather than defer to the courts.

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