A London barrister has won a landmark case which could see airlines forced to hand back hundreds or thousands of pounds to passengers who have had their reservations cancelled.
James Dove, a family law barrister, has won compensation from the Spanish airline, Iberia, following a unfortunate trip to Madrid.
Mr Dove had bought a return ticket from London to the Spanish capital. But he arrived a few minutes beyond the check-in deadline at Gatwick for the outbound flight and missed the plane. He duly bought a one-way ticket to Spain on another carrier.
He was aware that many airlines cancel a passenger’s entire itinerary if they fail to check in on time for the first flight. So he called Iberia to discuss whether he could have his return trip kept open.
Mr Dove was told that the whole trip had been cancelled, in line with Iberia’s conditions of carriage. Once again, he bought a flight home on a different airline.
He then sought to recover the cost of the Madrid-London flight, arguing that it was an unfair contract term for Iberia to keep the money.
Many “legacy” carriers operate the immediate cancellation rule in order to prevent what is known as “tariff abuse”. That means buying a ticket fully intending not to fly the whole itinerary. On a one-way trip from London to Moscow in July, for example, the Premium Economy fare is £1,201. A Moscow-London-Moscow ticket saves almost two-thirds, costing only £453. But anyone turning up at Heathrow having not flown the first segment would be refused travel.
In contrast, budget airlines sell tickets on a segment basis, with the cost of one sector being independent of other elements. They do not routinely cancel remaining reservations if one leg is not flown.
Mr Dove accepted the airline could keep the money for the flight he missed, but contended that if Iberia decided to cancel his inbound trip as well, the airline must refund that part of the fare.
At the Mayor's and City of London Court, Deputy District Judge Case agreed with Mr Dove. The judge ordered Iberia to pay back the money for the Madrid-London leg, amounting to £179.
The decision will empower passengers to claim part of the price of a cancelled itinerary back from the airline, at any time in the past six years (in England and Wales; five years in Scotland). But it does not cover the cost of buying a new flight, which is likely to be significantly more expensive than the original.
Before the hearing, Iberia’s law firm wrote to Mr Dove rejecting his right to EU-stipulated cancellation compensation, which he had not been claiming. The letter invited him to drop the case within three days, “or our client will be seeking their costs to defend this unnecessary action from you”.
The Spanish airline, which has the same parent company as British Airways, confirmed to The Independent the refund had been sent to Mr Dove. He has also been refunded the court fees and loss of earnings during the hearing.
Mr Dove said: "I believe that this judgment means anyone who has lost money because the airline cancelled the return of their trip will now be able to claim it back.
“Although this judgment is not binding case law, it could be used to persuade judges hearing similar cases."
Passengers who have missed a flight and had the return leg cancelled should write to the airline’s UK registered office to request a refund of the inbound fare. They should ask for a response within 21 days. If the carrier does not pay, then the passenger can issue a claim via Money Claims Online.
If a claim succeeds, court fees and lost earnings for attending court (up to £95) will be paid in addition to the refunded inbound fare.
Iberia has until next Monday, 3 July, to lodge an appeal.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies