Thousands of travellers had tickets on BA and the Irish airline for trips that they could not make because of lockdown rules in 2020 and 2021. British Airways offered vouchers for future flights while Ryanair allowed passengers to postpone their journeys.
Travellers are entitled to refunds when an airline cancels a flight. But the airlines have always maintained that as the flights departed they had no obligation to offer cash refunds under air passengers’ rights rules.
In June 2021, the CMA launched an investigation into whether the airlines had broken consumer law by failing to offer refunds.
In a statement, the authority now says it has concluded that “the law does not provide passengers with a sufficiently clear right to a refund in these unusual circumstances to justify continuing with the case”.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “We strongly believe people who are legally prevented from taking flights due to lockdown laws should be offered a full refund and we launched this investigation in the hope that we would be able to secure a positive outcome for consumers.
“However, after considering the relevant law and gathering evidence in our investigation, we have concluded that the length of time that would be required to take this case through the courts, and the uncertain outcome, can no longer justify the further expense of public money.
“We hope that the law in this area will be clarified.”
Ryanair has always maintained it has paid refunds where they are due. In March 2021, the chief executive, Michael O’Leary, told the Transport Select Committee: “All of the passengers who had requested refunds had received them.”
In response to the authority’s decision, the airline said: “Ryanair welcomes the CMA’s decision to close its investigation.
“We operated a limited schedule during UK lockdowns for customers who travelled for essential reasons. Passengers had the option to change their bookings without paying the flight change fee and many availed of this option.”
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “During this unprecedented crisis we have acted lawfully at all times, issuing nearly four million refunds and offering highly flexible booking policies enabling millions of our customers to change their travel dates or destinations.
“We’re grateful for their support at a time when we’ve been navigating dynamic and fast-changing travel restrictions to maintain a limited schedule that ensured vital air connections for travellers and cargo throughout the pandemic. “
Passengers are still free to pursue their own legal claims against either airline.