by Natalie Paris, The Telegraph, June 28, 2017
Air passengers may now be entitled to refunds from airlines who cancel the return legs of flights after the first leg has gone unused.
In a case that could affect anyone who has had a similar flight cancelled in the last six years, a judge has ordered that Iberia must refund a passenger the cost of his return journey after it prevented him from using it.
In accordance with the conditions of carriage of many “legacy” airlines, Iberia cancelled the return leg of a London - Madrid - London flight after the passenger in question, James Dove, was a few minutes late checking into the first flight at Gatwick.
Mr Dove called Iberia, the Independent reports, and asked that his return leg back from Madrid be kept open as he had continued on to Spain anyway with another carrier.
However, he was told that the whole trip had been cancelled and was forced to buy another ticket home with a different airline.
Though this is not a binding decision on other courts, and Iberia is expected to appeal, this is thought to be one of the first cases to tackle the loss to a passenger of the cost of a return leg of a flight that has been cancelled by the airline in this way.
The reason airlines prefer to cancel return flights when the initial leg goes unused is to avoid passengers buying returns that are cheaper than single flight tickets.
Nick Trend, our consumer advice editor, explains: “Airlines cancel return sectors if a passenger misses an outbound flight because they want to try to prevent them 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“It's a slightly bizarre, outdated pricing system, which in many cases has been rendered obsolete by no-frills carriers which now price, and allow you to book, each sector separately.
“In this case, however, the passenger clearly wasn't attempting to get round the fare rules,” he added. “He ended up arguing for a refund of the unused return, which seems an entirely reasonable position to take.”
A quick survey of prices on Iberia's website for return and single tickets from London to Madrid and back again in July revealed that buying a return journey was anything between £12 and £48 cheaper than the sum of two single fares on selected dates.
A legal expert from Bott & Co said he thought that future claims on this issue might see the passenger argue that they be compensated for buying a replacement return flight.
“I think there’s an argument that a passenger could recover the replacement flight cost,” said Coby Benson, a legal expert. “This would probably be favourable to the passenger, as the replacement flight is likely to be more costly than the originally booked flight.”
Telegraph Travel has contacted Iberia for a comment.