Shropshire Star

Ministers under pressure to introduce fines for airlines mistreating passengers

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is also calling for more transparency over complaints made to airlines.

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A passenger pulling a suitcase at an airport

Ministers are under renewed pressure to give the UK’s aviation regulator the power to fine airlines for mistreating passengers.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is also calling for more transparency over complaints made to airlines.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, CAA head of consumer policy and enforcement Anna Bowles explained that enforcing consumer laws regarding flight disruption “can take quite a long time”.

The regulator’s inability to issue fines means it is required to take airlines to court if they fail to respond to enforcement action, Ms Bowles said.

She gave the example of a recent investigation in relation to Wizz Air failing to reimburse passengers for assistance during flight delays and cancellations.

The CAA’s action was “really quite successful” as it resulted in an additional £1.2 million being refunded, but the process “took a year”, Ms Bowles said.

She went on: “We had no ability to fine, for example, Wizz around that.

“Fining powers, I think, would be helpful and also provide a disincentive to behave in certain ways.

“Had Wizz decided not to sign the undertaking, for us to force them to do that would have required us taking them to court.”

Industrial strike
Passengers wait in line to check in at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

On the CAA’s lack of information gathering powers, Ms Bowles said: “I have no data on how many complaints are made to any airline in the UK and what those complaints are made for, and how airlines respond to those complaints.

“That would be incredibly useful data for me to try and identify where things are going wrong and where we need to focus our attention.”

Sir Stephen Hillier, who chairs the CAA, told the committee: “We’re not trying for CAA exceptionalism in these powers.

“Essentially all we’re asking for is equivalent powers to what other regulators already have, bringing us into line.

“It just gives us a strengthened armoury and it should allow us to move more quickly in pursuit of consumers’ interests.

“The Government has already been very clear that they support that. We just look forward to that actually being moved into practice.”

In June last year, the Department for Transport set out plans to give the CAA “stronger enforcement powers”, but no legislation on the issue has been introduced to Parliament.

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