The CAA has launched a review into how airlines handled refunds during the coronavirus crisis, with chief Richard Moriarty calling for stronger enforcement powers to police the sector.
Appearing before the government’s transport committee, Moriarty said the authority’s powers under the Enterprise Act took the form of a two-year court process, which he believes could be sped up. “I would submit that there is a case to strengthen them and enhance them,” he said.
“We have a track record of standing up for consumers and taking airlines to court. But this process takes two years; it’s for government and parliamentarians to balance the powers they give regulators to balance the public interest with the companies we would seek to use them against.
“I would submit that if using them takes two years and requires a very expensive court process, perhaps we’ve got the balance in the wrong place.”
He also revealed that the CAA had launched what he described as a probe or review of airline refunds, and said the authority had published clear guidance that refunds should be paid “as soon as practicable”.
“We are supportive of things like vouchers and rebooking where it suits the consumer,” said Moriarty. “But where the consumer demands a cash refund, it is their right and they must get one.
“The question is how quickly the airlines can pay that money back to consumers, and tour operators, given the operational challenges they face, particularly around staffing during lockdown.
“All of the airlines we regulate have said to us they are paying refunds, and they will continue to do so until they reduce their backlogs.
“Part of our probe is to understand [whether] they are doing everything possible to get money back as soon as possible to the consumer,” Moriarty added, stressing that it was important to recognise businesses had been hit by complications arising from the country’s coronavirus lockdown such as self-isolation and staff not being able to access their offices,” he continued.
“Having said all of that, as the lockdown eases, we would expect them to adapt and clear those backlogs as soon as possible.”