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.
Interpretative Guidelines have been published to clarify the existing rules and facilitate their application on assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights.
Guidance on the application of Regulation (EU) No 261/2004 as retained (and amended in UK domestic law) under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018
UK (EU) Reg No 261/2004 provides important rights to passengers applicable at all times. 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.
UK (EU) Reg No 261/2004 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 or long delay is due to 'extraordinary circumstances'.
When considering whether the cancellation or long delay is due to extraordinary circumstances, each case would need to be considered on its own merits and the relevant facts, taking into account whether the disruption could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may include, for example, the decision by air traffic management to suspend flights due to bad weather and a bird striking an aircraft.
We recognise that the current operating environment is impacting airlines’ operations. 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; or
- 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).
We do not, however, consider that all circumstances which may be related to Covid-19 will necessarily be extraordinary circumstances, for example where those circumstances could be considered inherent in the operation of an airline. Examples of such circumstances may include managing staffing levels and absences.
The above considerations are not and cannot be exhaustive in that other specific circumstances 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 UK Government, and taking into account the practical impact on both airlines and passengers.
Interpretative Guidelines have been published to clarify the existing rules and facilitate their application on assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flight.
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.
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.
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.
- Guidance on Consumer Enforcement (March 2016)
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 (EU) No 1107/2006 as retained (and amended in UK domestic law) under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018
The CAA is responsible for compliance and enforcement with the law providing rights to disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility. View the text of the 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:
- 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
- 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 85 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 publish annual report on how UK airports have performed in terms of the quality of assistance provided to less mobile passengers.
Guidance on consumer law for airlines
You can visit our guidance on consumer law for airlines page for more information.
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:
- Air Services Regulation EC Regulation No 1008/2008 (ASR)
- Carrier Identity Regulation EC Regulation No 2111/2005 (CIR)
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs)
- Consumer Rights Act 2015
- The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (ECR)
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.
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.