British Airways Class Action on COVID-19 Refunds Can Proceed

British Airways Must Face Lawsuit on COVID-19 Refunds

A British Airways Class Action Lawsuit on COVID-19 Refunds, which the airline had tried to dismiss, can proceed, per the SDNY. British Airways is on TravelSort's List of Worst Major Airlines for Cancelled Flight Refunds in 2020.

The case, Ide v. British Airways PLC, grew out of several passengers' attempts to obtain a cash refund after British Airways cancelled their flights in Spring 2020, after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that the plaintiffs plausibly stated a claim for breach of contract under New York law, and rejected British Airways’ motion to dismiss.

British Airways' Conditions of Carriage state that if the airline cancels a flight, the passenger can choose one of three remedies: immediate rescheduling, rescheduling at the customer’s convenience, or a refund. The court noted that the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the airline frustrated their ability to secure their preferred choice, the refunds.

The court rejected BA's argument that the lawsuit was preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs’ law firms, however, potential recovery is limited to compensatory damages; other recourse, such as punitive damages, won't be allowed.

Stephen Ide had booked roundtrip tickets from Boston to London for a 35th wedding anniversary trip with his wife. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, BA cancelled the flights, and Ide had the contractual right to a refund. Hoping to stem cash outflows, BA removed the right to request a refund from its Web site and only permitted the option to request a travel voucher, so Ide applied for a voucher, hoping to convert it to a refund.

Ide tried calling BA four times to have his voucher converted to a refund, but was disconnected. When he was finally able to get through to a call center agent, he was told that because he'd accepted a voucher, he was ineligible for a refund.

Ide by his own admission doesn't travel much, so it's understandable that he and other occasional travelers weren't fully aware of what British Airways and the other airlines were up to by not having an easy online option to request a refund back to the original form of payment. Also, his attempts at a refund took place in late March 2020, before the Department of Transportation told Airlines to Refund Passengers Within 7 Days. Still, it's unfortunate that he didn't file a credit card chargeback after failed attempts to obtain a cash refund, which is what we've advised our clients to do when dealing with recalcitrant airlines and hotels over required refunds (see Coronavirus: Tips for Filing Credit Card Chargeback Disputes).

British Airways, seemingly in response to the lawsuit, in May 2020 amended its Executive Club terms, adding a class-action waiver and binding arbitration agreement for residents of the U.S. and Canada, bolding ours:

33.1 If you are a resident of the USA or Canada, to the extent permissible by local law or regulation, you agree that the resolution of any Dispute shall be conducted on an individual, not a class-wide basis (“Class Action Waiver”), and that no such proceeding may be consolidated with any other legal proceedings involving British Airways or any other person. You further agree that you, and anyone asserting a claim for you, will not be a class representative, class member, or otherwise participate in a class, representative, consolidated or private attorney general proceeding against British Airways.”

Have you had to fight for a refund due to a flight an airline cancelled during the pandemic?

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