Online travel agent On the Beach has successfully sued Ryanair over its failure to refund package holidays from during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a ruling today, High Court Judge Nigel Cooper KC calculated OTB group’s claim to exceed £2m.
On the Beach, which was joined in the legal action by fellow online travel agencies Sunshine.co.uk and Classic Package holidays, argued the budget carrier should pay for refunds offered by the group to passengers whose flights were disrupted over the pandemic.
Shaun Morton, chief executive of On the Beach, welcomed the decision. He added: “Today’s outcome sends an important message on how refunds should be handled and emphasises the industry’s responsibility to holidaymakers.
“On The Beach is committed to doing the right thing for its customers and provided full cash refunds for flights that were cancelled or subject to major changes during the pandemic, whether or not airlines had complied with their obligations.
“We continue to call on the CMA to review the anti-competitive behaviour by certain low-cost airlines, protecting consumer choice with fair access to flights and a code of conduct for airlines and travel agents.
“It has taken a protracted and expensive legal process to reach today’s outcome which could and should have been avoided. We urge the Department for Business and Trade to consider this in its current consultation on the Package Travel Regulations.”
The ruling comes amid a long-running feud between European online booking agents and Ryanair, who prefer customers to book direct so they can offer add-ons such as extra luggage and leg room. The airline argue direct communication with passengers is necessary to handle customer complaints and issues during the booking process.
Online travel agents, on the other hand, claim airlines are engaging in aggressive tactics aimed at removing consumer choice from the market so they can inflate profits.
Last week, On the Beach wrote to the UK competition regulator, the aviation watchdog and a host of senior transport ministers, urging them to take action.
The submission called for the Competition and Markets Authority to begin a full market review into budget airline practices and create a code of conduct for the groups to work together in future.
Ryanair DAC chief executive Dara Brady came out fighting following the ruling, and accused some online travel agents of “piracy.”
“Even pirate OTAs must demonstrate that they have refunded customers before any monies are released to OTAs by airlines,” Brady said. “This has been Ryanair’s long-standing practice, following numerous cases of refunds paid by airlines to OTAs during Covid not being passed on to passengers. Passengers whose bookings were made by OTA bots can avail directly of Ryanair’s enhanced-security refund procedures to ensure they receive any applicable refunds directly, rather than via these OTA digital pirates.”
On the Beach added that it would be seeking to recover its costs from the case.