IN YOUR CORNER
These airlines cancel your return ticket if you miss a flight
This highly questionable policy is practised by more carriers than you might think
Did you know that if you booked a return flight with an airline, or had onward bookings, and then didn’t take the initial flight for whatever reason, some airlines automatically would cancel all other flights without telling you?
Jaisvir Sewpaul was outraged when he discovered this recently.
“So if someone had to miss their first flight on Kulula due to traffic, and then made another plan to get to their destination, they can’t expect their return flight to be valid, despite having paid for it in advance!”
“Kulula expects the traveller to call their call centre and inform them so they can reinstate your return ticket,” he said.
“Counter staff do not tell you this and react very defensively when taken to task.”
It gets worse, he said.
“If the one flight is on Kulula and your return flight is on British Airways, then there is no way to reinstate your BA flight.
“If both flights are on BA, then you will lose both. If both flights are on Kulula, then you will be expected to pay a R399 change fee plus the difference in amount of your previous ticket and new ticket.
“It’s crazy and scandalous in the extreme,” he said.
The policy wasn’t dreamt up by Comair, which operates both British Airways and Kulula in SA – many airlines around the world cancel the rest of a passenger’s flights if they are a no-show on the first leg and don’t contact the airline to confirm their return or onward flights.
British Airways does it internationally and so does Virgin Atlantic.
Nick Trend, The Telegraph’s consumer advice editor, explains the reason for that: “Airlines cancel return sectors if a passenger misses an outbound flight because they want to try to prevent them from taking advantage of fare structures which price single fares at a higher rate than the cost of a return.
“It’s a slightly bizarre, outdated pricing system, which in many cases has been rendered obsolete by no-frills carriers which now price, and allow you to book, each sector separately.”
Plus, the rule is applied even when there is no financial advantage to the passenger for cutting out a flight, and when a problem such as a massive traffic jam has caused them to miss the check-in deadline.
Wrenelle Stander, executive director of Comair’s Airline Division, told me: “Many major airlines across the industry adopt this policy, as customers regularly make bookings for flights and then fail to arrive for that flight, preventing other customers from travelling that day.”
But the airline has been paid for that seat, so by cancelling it – without even attempting to contact the person who has paid for it to find out if they want it to be cancelled or not – and then reselling it, they’re getting paid twice for the same seat.
I must admit to sharing Sewpaul’s outrage on this one.
And worldwide the policy is being challenged on several fronts.
In June 2017, a deputy district judge at the Mayor’s and City of London Court ordered that Iberia refund a passenger the cost of his return journey from Madrid to London after the airline prevented him from using it. He had missed his flight from London to Madrid and got there with another airline, and the airline then cancelled his return flight.
And in December, UK-based consumer advocacy group Which? said it had written to nine carriers, including BA and Virgin Atlantic, saying the practice was potentially a breach of that country’s Consumer Rights Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive.
The clauses are “often buried deep in airline terms and conditions”, Which? said.
“Comair’s terms and conditions stipulate that when customers no-show for a flight their return or onward flight segments will be cancelled,” Stander said.
“As long as we’re notified in good time, the passenger will retain the value of the return/onward segments, and depending on the type of fare initially purchased, passengers may incur a rebooking fee plus the difference in price between the new and old ticket.
“This is in line with global industry practice.”
I can’t see how depriving a customer of a service they’ve paid for – unless they confirm they still want that service – is in line with our Consumer Protection Act.
It would be interesting to have a consumer challenge that with a complaint to the consumer goods and services ombud.
Who does what?
In this country, British Airways and Kulula apply the “no-show” policy, and will cancel any return or onward flight if you miss your first flight without informing them not to cancel.
South African Airways appears to do it too. The airline failed to respond to my query, but its terms and conditions include: “Please be advised that in the event you do not show up for any flight without advising us in advance, we may cancel your return or onward reservations.”
Neither Flysafair nor Mango does it. If you miss your first flight, the rest of your flight remains valid whether you inform them nor not.
It’s really important that you check out an airline’s no-show policy if you’re travelling internationally.