CAA reiterates call for power to fine airlines flouting consumer laws

The Civil Aviation Authority has reiterated its call to be given the power to fine airlines for mistreating passengers.

The aviation regulator is also calling for more information about the complaints being made to airlines.

Anna Bowles, CAA head of consumer policy and enforcement, told the transport select committee on Wednesday (April 17) that enforcing consumer laws regarding flight disruption “can take quite a long time”.

The regulator’s inability to issue fines means it must take airlines to court if they fail to respond to enforcement action, she explained.

Commenting on an investigation into Wizz Air failing to reimburse passengers for assistance during flight delays and cancellations, she said the CAA action resulted in an additional £1.2 million being refunded, but the process “took a year”.

“We had no ability to fine, for example, Wizz around that,” she told the committee.

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

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Bowles also said she has no data about how many complaints are made to airlines in the UK 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,” she added.

Sir Stephen Hillier, CAA chair, 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 2023, the government has pledged to enhance protections for air passengers and grant the CAA tougher enforcement powers – but no legislation on the issue has been introduced to Parliament.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of Policy and Advocacy, said: “Passengers have repeatedly endured unfair and in some cases unlawful treatment by some airlines in recent years, yet as it stands the Civil Aviation Authority is limited in its ability to swiftly tackle consumer harm.

“With time to legislate before the next election now limited, it must be a priority for the next government to grant the CAA the powers it needs to issue hefty fines and hold airlines to account when they break the law.

“Until it does so, some airlines will continue undermining UK travellers’ rights with impunity.”

Pictured from left: Anna Bowles, Sir Stephen Hillier and Sophie O’Sullivan of the CAA at the transport select committee

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