• 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.

    Guidance on the application of Regulation EC261/2004 in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19

    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:

    • a refund; or
    • re-routing (alternative flights) at the earliest opportunity; or
    • re-routing at a later date (subject to availability).

    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:

    • Where the Government advises against all travel, or all but essential travel, to a destination.
    • For cancellations or long delays impacted by Covid-19 in other circumstances that are not inherent in the operation of the airline and beyond its control. Such circumstances could include those where there is no Government advice against travel, but where disruption has been directly caused by activities of regulatory authorities or other third parties related to Covid-19, for example closing airspace to the airline, seriously restricting the airline’s operations in other ways, or where the corresponding movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to persons benefitting from exemptions (for example nationals or residents of the state concerned). 

    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. 

    Last updated: 23 March 2020


    European Commission Guidelines

    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.

    Regulation EC1107/2006

    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.

    What the legislation covers

    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:

    Airports

    • to provide assistance throughout the passenger journey at the airport
    • to set, publish and monitor “quality standards” on service performance
    • to train customer facing staff
    • to charge airlines for provision of the service

    Airlines

    • to provide assistance on board aircraft
    • to train customer facing staff
    • to provide information to PRMs on any safety or security restrictions which might affect a person's ability to travel
    • to transport medical and mobility equipment

    Section 85 of the Civil Aviation Act 2012

    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.

    Airport performance reports

    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.

    What the legislation covers

    The legislation places obligations on the airline operating the flight to provide:

    • information to passengers about their rights
    • care and assistance during periods of long delay or cancellation
    • the option of a refund or re-routing for cancelled flights
    • financial compensation for cancelled flights (in specific circumstances)
    • information, care, assistance and compensation when passengers are denied boarding;
    • a partial refund for downgrades and to make no additional charge for upgrades;
    • details of how consumers can make a complaint

    CAA Guidance 

    The CAA has published two compliance reports which deal with different aspects of the Regulation:  

    • CAP 1227 sets out guidance on the obligation to provide information on their legal rights to disrupted passengers.  

    • CAP 1275 focuses on the requirement to provide financial compensation for technical faults on an aircraft and the limitation period for dealing with consumer claims.

    CAA view on re-routing obligations

    We have also published guidance on the types of incidents that may be considered to be an extraordinary circumstance under the legislation.  

    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:  

    What the legislation covers

    Businesses should display flight prices clearly and fairly:

    • The 'headline' price advertised must include all unavoidable taxes, charges, surcharges and fees - this includes prices on websites, travel brochures and other media,
    • When a flight is being purchased, the airline's terms and conditions should be available to consumers,
    • Optional extras (e.g. baggage, insurance, seat selection) must be offered on an opt in basis,
    • A breakdown of the total price should be shown including base fares, taxes and charges.

    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;

    • Information must be not be false, misleading or confusing,
    • This relates to the price, sales process, or either party's rights before or after booking e.g. optional extras offered on an opt out basis rather than opt in,
    • Consumers must be given all the information they need to make an informed decision and terms and conditions should be clear and 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.

    CAA Guidance 

    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.