The elephant in the room is how customer deposits are used to fund day-to-day operations. It wasn’t just that the major carriers didn’t want to provide refunds, it is that they would have struggled to return the cash because much of it had already been spent. Some even admitted that a flood of payouts risked tipping them over the edge.
There’s no denying that the pandemic sent the airline industry into a tailspin but it’s not for consumers to prop up struggling businesses.
Imagine the uproar if a high street bank had refused customers access to their savings during the financial crisis. It might happen in failed socialist regimes or dictatorships but even then people would take to the streets. Besides, you can’t plead for special treatment if you’re not prepared to do the right thing by customers.
But the point is that some airlines appear to be playing fast and loose with money that is not theirs. The CMA’s retreat merely reinforces a longstanding impression that travellers have few rights and therefore a pressing need for a different approach.
The system needs changing so that deposits are held in escrow or ring-fenced in some other way, and companies learn to stand on their own two feet.
Until then, passengers will continue to be treated as a giant cash machine by an industry that has long held them in contempt.