CAA. Toothless in support of the consumer?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

At the risk of boring readers who will have heard some of this before, I want you to think about the role of the Civil Aviation Authority, the CAA.

passenger flight delay compensation
Sould the industry and the consumer be represented by the same body – CAA?

During the week, Which? returned to one its constant themes over the last couple of months by pointing out that it was still taking too long for some people to receive refunds to which they were legally entitled.

Last month, the CAA hauled a few companies over the coals saying that they were taking too long to issue refunds to their customers. It named Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and TUI as the main offenders. It also issued warnings to  a number of companies telling them to get the acts together.

What has happened since?

According to Which? not a lot.

It goes on to say and I quote, “Which? is now also calling for the government to enhance the CAA’s existing powers to allow it to more easily take swift and meaningful action against airlines that have repeatedly been exposed for disregarding the law…”

And this is where I fundamentally disagree with Which? The CAA’s powers shouldn’t be increased but reduced.

As a regulator of the airline industry, the champion of consumer rights and the operator of the ATOL scheme as well as the alternative dispute resolution it is trying to be all things to all people. The rail industry has a separate consumer side with Transport Focus, there are ombudsmen for the financial services industry and other industries all of which are independent of the industry. Not so the travel industry where the CAA supports both the industry and the consumer.

Consider the monitoring of EU261 claims. Under this regulation, companies have to issue compensation for delayed flights. One company in particular – TUI – takes so long and makes it so difficult that some people have waited an excessive time and some have had to resort to what should be unnecessary court action to stir companies into action.

If TUI were forced to list in its balance sheet the amount of the claims made against it, it might make some investors wince.

What has the CAA done when firms of solicitors have gone into print on this topic? Little if anything leaving the consumer thinking that the CAA is more on the side of the airline and travel companies than the consumer.   

Perception is important and the CAA has lost that battle. 

Now is the time for Transport Focus to take on consumer responsibilities for all travel or for there to be a separate body, a Travel Ombudsman, in which consumers can believe that it has their interests at heart and is independent of what it is trying to judge.

But the government hasn’t helped. It keeps on saying that it recognises that the travel industry has suffered to a greater degree than many industries yet it what does it offer yet what does the Department for Culture etc (which has responsibility for tourism) do other than mouth platitudes?

It could, on behalf of the travel companies, have paid all the refunds that are due to consumers and say that travel companies need not pay back the government for twelve months, that to be reviewed if the pandemic continued. This action, which would have cost little compared to the amount of cash the government has splashed, would have meant that travel companies that might have gone under would have had a breathing space to revitalise their businesses; staff need not have had to be made redundant and the consumer would have felt happier and the money they had returned to them would probably have been spent and helped to boost local economies.

As it is the government will have to provide some sort of support to the travel and tourism industries to help them survive something that is not of their making.

The virus has altered much in our lives and improving the rights of passengers and travellers would be one good thing to come out of it. And that would be by reducing the role of the CAA, a body that seems toothless in supporting the consumer.

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