Airlines operating in the UK need to comply with a range of consumer law, some of which applies specifically to aviation and some which applies generally to all businesses. This includes legislation relating to price transparency, passenger rights during flight disruption, access to air travel for passengers with reduced mobility, unfair contract
terms and requirements to trade fairly.
Please see below for information on legal requirements and the CAA’s enforcement powers.
We recognise that this is a very challenging time for airlines and passengers. We believe it would be helpful for us, as the UK’s National Enforcement Body, to clarify how we are currently interpreting certain aspects of European Regulation EC261/2004
that apply to compensation rights that passengers have during disruption caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
On 18 March 2020 the European Commission published
guidance on the application of Regulation EC261/2004 during the Covid-19 outbreak. We have therefore updated our guidance to reflect the Commission’s view.
Regulation EC261/2004 provides important rights to passengers applicable at all times, including during the current unprecedented situation. Where flights are cancelled or there are long delays, airlines are required to assist passengers by providing information on
their rights and providing care and assistance during the disruption such as providing meals, allowing for passengers to communicate messages, and providing hotel accommodation (and transfers to and from the hotel) for overnight delays.
Where flights are cancelled passengers must be offered the choice of:
It is important that airlines assist passengers by clearly setting out these options to them. In addition, it is open to airlines to offer incentives to passengers to encourage them to fly at a later date, for example through providing vouchers of a higher value. We recognise that in the current operating environment there may be significant practical difficulties in airlines providing alternative flights, for example, where government advice is to avoid travel to particular destinations. A refund for the passenger may therefore be the only practical option available.
Regulation EC261/2004 also provides for fixed sum compensation in some circumstances. However, this does not apply for cancellations made more than 14 days in advance or where the cancellation is due to 'extraordinary circumstances'.
Given the unprecedented situation we are experiencing in aviation due to Covid-19, and although each case would need to be considered on its own merits and the relevant facts, we consider that the following circumstances would be viewed as extraordinary circumstances and therefore the fixed sum compensation would, in our view, not be payable:
There may be other circumstances where airlines seek to cancel flights within the 14 day period due to the economic and environmental consequences of operating flights with only a small number of passengers on board. Such circumstances could arise as a result of restrictions applied within the country of destination, for example restrictions on movement within the country (e.g. lockdown/shutdown measures implemented by the local or national government) as well as restrictions on access to local services that are critical for non-residents (e.g. hotel closures, restaurant closures, etc), which will have affected whether passengers take their flights. Such circumstances may be viewed as extraordinary circumstances under Regulation EC261/2004 and therefore the fixed sum compensation would not be payable, but this may not be the case in all circumstances.
Where a flight is cancelled and the airline can demonstrate that this decision was justified on grounds of protecting the health of the crew, such cancellation should also be considered as caused by extraordinary circumstances.
The above considerations are not and cannot be exhaustive in that other specific circumstances in relation to Covid-19 may also fall under the ambit of Article 5(3).
The CAA takes a proportionate approach to enforcement and focuses its resources on systematic issues of non-compliance that substantially harm the interests of passengers. In assessing compliance, we are cognisant of the challenging operating conditions that airlines are currently facing and we expect airlines to act in a way which best serves the interests of their customers. On this basis, we will look to airlines to demonstrate that they are being proactive and flexible in managing the situation and minimising the impact on passengers of the disruption.
Please note that the CAA’s interpretation of extraordinary circumstances set out above is illustrative and for guidance only, rather than determinative of our view in any specific case that may arise. Each case will be context and fact specific. It should also be recognised that should a passenger or group of passengers disagree with the CAA’s interpretation in a specific case, it is open to them to seek to enforce their rights through the courts.
The CAA reserves the right to withdraw, update or amend this statement in light of developments, including further guidance from the European Commission or the UK Government, and taking into account the practical impact on both airlines and passengers.
The requirement to a wear face covering on public transport became law in England on 15 June 2020 in the form of
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 (the “Regulations”) and in Scotland on 18 June 2020 as set down in the
Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 2020 .
The Government also published guidance on how this requirement applies to air travel:
Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer aviation guidance for operators" , “Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers and the
guidance available on Transport Scotland’s website . These guidance materials contain clear instructions on the requirement to wear a face covering on flights departing from England and Scotland and in English and Scottish airspace , including the relevant exemptions. (The
4 nations of the UK have been producing their own advice for their citizens in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Guidelines for air travel have been produced specifically for England but are also being followed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
A similar requirement for face coverings exists on other modes of public transport, and the consequence for a passenger’s non-compliance includes being denied boarding or facing a £100 fine. It is also a requirement in Scotland to wear a face covering at the airport.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 (“EC261”) provides certain rights to passengers affected by flight disruption or denied boarding, and Regulation (EC) 1107/2006 (“EC1107”) protects passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or restricted mobility from being denied boarding because of their condition. Under both pieces of legislation, passengers ordinarily denied boarding are entitled to a refund or a replacement flight and compensation. EC261 also requires the airline to provide care and assistance at the airport, but also states that none of these provisions apply where there are “reasonable grounds” for denied boarding, such as reasons of health, safety, or inadequate travel documentation.
Article 4 (3) If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them in accordance with Article 7 (Right to Compensation) and assist them in accordance with Articles 8 (Right to re-imbursement or re-routing) and 9 (Right to care).
Article 2 (j) "denied boarding" means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, although they have presented themselves for boarding … except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation.
The sections below set out the CAA’s view of how the Government requirement to wear face coverings interacts with these rights and how we will assess compliance. This guidance applies UK wide with reference to local requirements where relevant.
The Government has stated that passengers must wear face coverings on board aircraft. In line with this requirement and following advice from industry trade bodies on the safe resumption of flights, some airlines have made this a condition of carriage along with other measures taken to reduce the risk of transmitting Coronavirus (i.e. for health reasons). If a passenger refuses to wear a face covering, they may be denied boarding on health grounds. Passengers denied boarding based will be entitled to the rights set out in EC261 except where the grounds were reasonable.
The CAA expects airlines to communicate the need for the face covering clearly to passengers in advance of the flight (for example during the booking process and during check-in, for both outbound and inbound passenger).
The need to wear a face covering does not apply where factors such as health, age or equality make it difficult or dangerous to do so.
The Government guidance states that the requirement to wear a face covering is exempted for certain passengers and if the individual has a good reason not to.
Please visit the GOV.UK website for the full list of exemptions.
The CAA recognises that some airlines require children under the age of 11 to wear a face covering. We are also aware that some airlines have specified the precise health condition that they believe would prevent a passenger from being able to wear a face covering. Airlines are permitted to set their own conditions of carriage and, as stated above, to deny boarding for non-compliance on health grounds. Passengers are not entitled to the rights under EC261 where these grounds are reasonable. This will be determined on a case by case basis.
As explained in the guidance for transport operators on passenger compliance with the face covering regulations, the Government's aim is to achieve high rates of compliance with wearing face coverings, rather than high rates of enforcement. Given this, where an airline policy differs from the Government guidance, we would expect the airline concerned to be prepared to explain to the passenger why their policy differs - such as requirements in another country the aircraft is operating from or to.
The CAA would only consider it reasonable to deny boarding to those not wearing a face covering who fall within the exemptions set down in the Government guidance but who are not in compliance with the airline's policy if the airline had clearly communicated this policy to its passengers in advance of the flight (for example during the booking process and during check-in).
Further, where a passenger seeks to rely on an exemption from the requirement to wear a face covering, we expect the airline to follow the 6-step process for escalation set out in the Government's guidance for operators.
If an airline policy is for children under the age of 11 to wear a face covering, the CAA would again expect the airline to make this clear to passengers in advance of the flight (for example during the booking process and during check-in) and, in any event, should not impose the requirement on a child under the age of 3.
The Government's guidance on exemptions states that, where a passenger seeks to rely on an exemption from the requirement to wear a face covering, those seeking to enforce the requirement (i.e. airlines) should take a proportionate approach to the evidence they require in support of that reliance. The guidance goes on to state that, by way of example, it is not envisaged that people relying on an age, health or disability related exemption will routinely be required to produce any written evidence in support of their reliance.
The CAA agrees with this position and notes that this is consistent with the self-declaration approach for people seeking additional assistance at the airport and on-board the aircraft and which is set out in EC1107. Further, such a requirement to produce any written evidence would be difficult to meet as healthcare providers have limited capacity to deal with requests for such documentation.
In summary, for flights covered by the Regulations, the CAA does not consider that it would be reasonable for airlines to routinely require passengers seeking to rely on an exemption on the basis of a disability or medical condition to provide proof, for example in the form of a medical certificate, GP's letter, or similar, that they cannot wear a face covering. However, the CAA notes that the requirements on face coverings in other countries may differ from those covered by the Regulations, and therefore airlines may be required to apply different standards or rules on proof.
As explained above, the Government's aim is to achieve high rates of compliance with wearing face coverings and therefore, whilst we do not expect to see many passengers travelling who are unable to wear masks on health grounds, it is important that the exemptions and requirements are communicated to all passengers.
The requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and other public spaces such as airports may differ from country to country. If the airline is aware of a different requirement at the destination country and has set more stringent requirements on these grounds, the airline should communicate this clearly to their passengers in advance of the flight (for example during the booking process and during check-in).
This could cover details such as the minimum age of a child required to wear a face covering, the type of face covering (see below) and possibly the need for documentary evidence of a medical condition. The airline should make passengers aware, in advance of the flight, that the requirements may be different to the UK and that the passengers should seek out this information for themselves before embarking on their journey.
The term face covering is defined as “a covering of any type which covers a person's nose and mouth” (Reg 2(1) of the Regulations).
If an airline requires a specific type of covering, this should be clearly communicated to the passenger in advance of the flight and, as with the exemptions, airlines should be prepared to explain why a different definition is being used.
Any dispute concerning denied boarding on the grounds of not wearing a face covering can be escalated to an Alternative Dispute Resolution body (ADR) where the airline has appointed one, or the CAA's Passenger Advice and Complaints Team for adjudication or further assistance.
Airlines must continue to provide details of these services when handling complaints on this subject.
The European Commission has published
guidelines to clarify the existing rules and facilitate their application across the EU.
We have issued guidance on our approach to enforcing consumer law. The guidance aims to inform our stakeholders, (businesses and their advisers, consumers, consumer groups, and other interested parties) on how we will use our consumer powers.
We have also published prioritisation principles that explain our approach in deciding what is the most important work to do in the areas of consumer protection, competition law and economic regulation.
The CAA is responsible for compliance and enforcement with European law providing rights to disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility. View the European Legislation and “ Interpretative guidelines” on application of the Regulation. The legislation is enacted in the UK through The Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2014.
The CAA has published guidance for airports on setting, publishing and monitoring Quality Standards under the Regulation.
The legislation places obligations on airports and airlines to provide access to air travel for PRMs, subject to some safety and security issues.
These include obligations on:
Under Section 83 of the Civil Aviation Act 2012 airports and airlines are required to “publish information for the benefit” of passengers. The CAA requires airlines and airports to publish key information relevant to passengers with reduced mobility on their websites.
This subject areas for the information have been specified by the CAA and should be presented on a single webpage one click away from the home page of the website or on webpages directly accessible from a single 'landing' webpage one click away from the home page. The information should be presented in a clear and easy to understand way and the design of websites should take into consideration existing international guidelines on website accessibility.
We have published a report on how UK airports have performed in terms of the quality of assistance provided to disabled persons and those with reduced mobility for the year April 2015 to 31 March 2016.
The CAA is responsible for compliance and enforcement with the European law which provides rights to passengers when their flights are delayed or cancelled or a flight is overbooked.
Airlines will also need to ensure they comply with the English and European case law that has been developed on a range of aspects of the legislation. The European Commission publishes information on European court judgments, but you should also ensure that you keep up-to-date with the latest developments.
In the English courts, the Court of Appeal has issued two judgments relating to the Regulation. The Jet2.com v Huzar ruling confirmed that technical faults on aircraft are not an extraordinary circumstance and the ruling in Dawson v Thomson Airways Ltd confirmed that passengers have a 6 year period to take their claim to court in England and Wales.
The legislation places obligations on the airline operating the flight to provide:
The CAA has published two compliance reports which deal with different aspects of the Regulation:
The CAA List sets out a range of incidents that in our view could fall into this category, it is non-exhaustive and there may be other incidents that could fall under the exemption. In addition airlines will also need to demonstrate that they took all reasonable measures to avoid or mitigate the resulting disruption.
The CAA along with the Competition and Markets Authority are responsible for compliance and enforcement with laws which are applicable to the sale and advertising of flights and holidays.
These laws include:
Businesses should display flight prices clearly and fairly:
Businesses must be clear on which airline will be operating the flight at the start of the booking process. If the operating airline is not known at the time of booking, or the airline changes after the consumer books, the consumers must be informed of the operating airline as soon as it is known.
Businesses must provide clear, accurate information which is easy to understand;
Businesses must act in a professional and diligent way so customers are not disadvantaged or misled, this could include travel agents or airlines not informing passengers of a flight schedule change.
Businesses should include the full registered name and address of the business, VAT number, and their contact details which should include an email address.
In March 2013 the CAA and Office of Fair Trading published joint guidance on the Requirements of Consumer Law Applicable to the Sale and Advertising of Flights and Holidays.
This guidance is aimed at anyone who advertises a flight including travel agents, tour operators, airlines and price comparison websites. A Quick Reference version is also available.
Airlines need to ensure that they comply with the law that prohibits the use of unfair contract terms. A contract term may be considered to be unfair if it creates a significant imbalance in the rights and obligations of the airline and consumer to the detriment of the consumer. If the CAA believes that unfair terms are being used by airlines, it has the power to take enforcement action.
Unfair terms are not enforceable against the consumer, however only a court can decide whether a term is unfair or not.
The law on contract terms is now included in the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
You can also review the Competition and Markets Authority advice on the unfair terms provisions.
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