29 Jun 2017

Court Rules Airline Must Refund Return Fare When Outbound Leg Missed

Iberia Plane in Flight

A London barrister celebrated a legal win against Iberia Airlines which could change the way airlines behave when people miss or cancel the first leg of a return trip.

Traditionally, airlines often offered cheaper fares for return flights than for single legs. To prevent travellers from booking a return trip and only using one leg, airlines have included in their conditions of carriage an immediate cancellation policy for the return trip if the outbound leg was not taken.

This measure, to prevent ‘fare abuse’, has often caused severe problems for travellers who miss their first leg, then have to re-book the return leg of a flight, usually at greater expense. To make matters worse, airlines have previously claimed that no refund is due for the return leg. This is the rule that James Dove successfully argued against in the Mayor’s and City of London Court.

Mr Dove, a family law barrister, had missed his outbound flight, and had made alternative arrangements to travel. He accepted that the airline should not refund the fare for the outbound flight he had missed. However, he contended that the airline’s rule not to refund the return fare was an unfair condition of carriage, and took the airline to Court to argue for his refund of the return fare.

The airline lost the Court case, and the judge ruled that the airline should refund the fare for the return flight, as well as paying costs and loss of earnings for Mr Dove’s Court appearance. Although this ruling is not legally binding on lower Courts, it does give guidance to other judges ruling on similar cases. Therefore it appears likely that in future, travellers in a similar position can claim back the return fare from the airline. If the airline does not repay the return fare in a reasonable time, travellers can now take the airline to small claims court to recover their fare, and are likely to win if the Court follows the ruling made in this case.

Furthermore, any travellers who have lost fares in this fashion in the past can now try to claim them back, providing the flight was within the statute of limitations for legal action (6 years in the UK, 5 years in Scotland).

If you have lost a fare in a similar situation, you should write to the airline and try to claim the money back, citing unfair conditions of carriage as the reason why they should pay. If they disagree, legal action can then be commenced against the airline. This may not be successful without proper legal counsel, but the recent ruling definitely bolsters the legal arguments for the airline returning the fare, and it is thought that in most cases airlines will cough up instead of exposing themselves to further legal fees if they lose in Court.

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