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Law360, London (June 9, 2021, 4:29 PM BST) -- Britain's consumer protection watchdog announced a probe on Wednesday into whether British Airways PLC and Ryanair DAC broke the law by failing to refund passengers whose flights were canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
The Competition and Markets Authority said it took action following an investigation in December into the aviation industry, which it launched after reports that people were being denied refunds for flights that laws prevented them from boarding.
British Airways offered vouchers or rebooking instead of refunds, according to the watchdog. Budget carrier Ryanair offered its passengers the option to rebook their tickets, but both airlines refused to offer refunds.
The CMA said that both carriers might have breached consumer law by failing to offer people their money back. The watchdog said it is now trying to resolve the matter with the companies, which could include making the airlines offer refunds or other redress.
"Customers booked these flights in good faith, and were legally unable to take them due to circumstances entirely outside of their control," said Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive. "We believe these people should have been offered their money back."
The regulator emphasized that it cannot be assumed that the two airlines were in breach of consumer law, which can only be determined in a court of law.
Responding to the watchdog's decision to open an investigation, a Ryanair spokesperson said in an emailed statement that it has approached the requests case by case and "paid refunds in justified cases."
"Since June 2020, all our customers have also had the ability to rebook their flights without paying a change fee, and millions of our U.K. customers have availed of this option," the spokesperson said.
British Airways did not respond to a request for comment.
The CMA threatened in February to take travel booking service lastminute.com to court after it failed to refund people for holidays that were canceled because of the virus crisis.
And, in May, the Department for Transport published a charter aimed at providing guidance on rights about international travel when pandemic measures are in place.
--Editing by Alyssa Miller.
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