Consumer rights group Which? has told airlines they could be breaking the law by imposing what it calls ‘rip-off no-show’ clauses that see passengers charged for missing the first leg of a return flight.

The group says the clauses are often ‘buried deep’ in airlines’ terms and conditions and mean passengers who miss their outbound flight can be considered a ‘no-show’. Which? claims their return ticket can then be cancelled and their seats resold, often with no refund.

Furthermore, passengers allegedly are not told that their return flight has been cancelled until they arrive at the airport for the journey home and are forced to purchase a new ticket at a higher price. Some have even been charged a fine of up to €3,000 to use their original ticket.

During its investigation, Which? found that 11 of the 16 airlines it looked at used the clauses.

Which? says it has written to nine airlines including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways to inform them that their ‘no-show’ clauses may be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive.

Thomas Cook and Aurigny have already said they plan to drop the clauses from their terms and conditions.

Which? is teaming up with consumer groups in nine countries across Europe, with watchdogs in Greece and the Netherlands announcing court action against KLM, which they say has the harshest ‘no-show’ terms along with Air France. Both airlines are already in a legal battle with Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop.

Which? claims the case for ending the practice is held up by a 2017 British case in which a passenger won compensation from Iberia, with the judge ruling the ‘no-show’ clause was unfair. The Spanish Supreme Court also reached a similar conclusion.

The consumer group commends Easyjet and Ryanair for demonstrating that airlines can “operate successfully” without the clause.

Alex Neill, MD of home products and services at Which?, commented: “Missing a flight because you’re stuck in traffic or on a delayed train is frustrating enough, but for the airline to then turn around and say your return journey is cancelled as well is completely unfair and unjustified.

“We don’t think there’s any good reason for a ‘no-show’ clause to exist – it only works in favour of the airline. It should be removed immediately by airlines, who need to show more respect for their passengers.”

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