Airlines asked to end ‘rip-off no-show clauses’

British-based consumer champion Which? highlights cases of passengers being stranded

One of Europe’s leading consumer groups has called for “rip-off no-show clauses” which some airlines use to maximise profits if passengers miss the outward-bound leg of return flights to be outlawed.

The British-based consumer champion Which? has highlighted cases of passengers being stranded and left hundreds of euro out of pocket by carriers exploiting clauses often buried deep in the terms and conditions.

Such clauses allows an airline to cancel a passenger’s connecting or return flights just because they miss the outward-bound flight with no refund given. In some cases airlines are effectively able to double their money by subsequently reselling the seats they cancel.

Ryanair does not operate such a policy and does not penalise a passenger if they do not take an outward-bound journey.

Aer Lingus does not routinely cancel homeward-bound flights if the first leg is not taken, although its terms and conditions allow for that to happen and it can impose extra charges on passengers in these circumstances.

In a report released last week, the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) concluded that a policy of automatically cancelling a passenger's return if they do not take the outbound flight was "disproportionate".

It also said that “no-show” clauses used by some airlines, including Aer Lingus, fell short of its expectations on “fairness and transparency” for consumers.

The CAA noted that while Aer Lingus’ passenger contracts do contain a standard airline wording that if they miss an outbound journey than the airline “may cancel their return or onward reservations” the airline said it did not cancel return flight in such circumstances.

However, Aer Lingus’s conditions of carriage allow it to re-calculate a fare based on the new journey “and there does not appear to be an exception to this rule for example in cases of unusual on unforeseeable events outside of the passenger’s control”, the CAA said.

It added that although the approach taken by Aer Lingus “represents an improvement on the other airlines”, it did not consider its approach to be “sufficient to meet the standards of fairness and transparency” that it expects .

Other airlines including British Airways adopt a harsher approach and simply cancel flights if the initial journeys are not taken.

The airline said many of its tickets allow customers to make changes to their flights if they inform the airline before travelling and said such a policy was common practice in the industry and there to stop “tariff abuse” – when passengers buy return tickets that are cheaper than a single flight.

"It's totally unreasonable for an airline to cancel a passenger's return flight - often without warning - simply because they've missed the first leg of their journey," Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said.

“Airlines have been able to cash in with this tactic for too long - leaving people miserable, stranded and hundreds if not thousands of pounds out of pocket.

“If airlines are not going to do the right thing and stop this disgraceful practice on their own, the Civil Aviation Authority should step in and ban these rip-off clauses.”