UK Airlines Haven’t Faced Fines in 20 Years

A busy airport with passengers walking and standing around
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Aug 30, 2023
4 minutes read

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the UK’s regulator for airlines. Having said that, it has no power to fine them. This has meant that despite airlines breaking consumer law multiple times in the last 20 years, not one of them has been penalised by the CAA, according to research from Which?

Significant evidence exists that UK airlines have been taken to court by hundreds of thousands of air passengers for refunds and compensation. This is following delays and cancellations where the airline has failed to fulfil their duties in regards to regulation EC261.

Airlines aren’t blameless either, as American courts handed British Airways a $1.1 million fine for not paying refunds in a timely manner in 2020. Italian regulators even fined Ryanair €4.2 million and easyJet €2.8 million for not providing quick and easy refunds during the pandemic.

The main issue with the CAA is that it can only use its powers to apply to the courts for enforcement orders. If airlines refuse to comply, the court proceedings can possibly result in a fine. Which? data suggest that this has only happened once in the CAA’s history, back in 2018 when Ryanair refused to compensate its passengers after delays caused by striking staff. Appeals delayed compensation to late 2022, but it’s unclear whether the CAA punished the airline at all.

Which? has been bombarded with consumers struggling to receive compensation from airlines. When the group contacted the CAA, the response was that it asked airlines to begin to refund passengers according to the law. Not only have airlines been flagrantly ignoring the rules, but there appears to be no consequences for breaking the law.

So what can the CAA actually do if it’s not protecting consumer rights? Currently, enforcement as it stands relies on a willingness from airlines to comply. If airlines deny any wrongdoing, the CAA can only take them to court even though they have deemed the airline in breach of any regulations. Is costly court action supposed to be the only tool a regulator can use? After only instigating this enforcement once in its history, it begs the question as to what the CAA actually does, if anything.

The Department for Transport has proposed that new powers should be given to the CAA in order for airlines to face fines. Legislation will need to be passed before this happens, as flagrant rule breaking cannot be permitted, especially where there are no consequences. Hefty fines should be one of the deterrents available to a regulator at the very least.

As an air passenger, you should know your rights. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, the airline must act according to specific time frames. Cancellations with less than 14 days’ notice can either be refunded or rerouted. As long as your flight departs from the UK or EU and lands in one or the other, the airline has to help you.

If your flight has been delayed, the airline has to look after its passengers, including a reasonable amount of food and drink, communication, accommodation and transport, if necessary. This applies for delays of at least two hours. Any delay longer than three hours can be eligible for compensation, providing the airline is at fault.

Have you been on a delayed flight? Has the airline been dragging its heels about compensating you but you know they’re in the wrong? Don’t wait for the CAA to do something about it – learn more about flight delay compensation and how you can claim.