Air passengers should have more protection from disruptions like COVID-19, according to MPs.
The Transport Committee has called for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to have stronger powers to hit airlines that do not completely refund customers when required by law with fines.
It comes after over two years of disruptions to the travel industry during the pandemic.
In a 55-page document, MPs have called on the CAA to be given “more teeth” and calls for ministers to publish an aviation recovery plan by June “as a priority”.
The report also calls for an airline insolvency bill to be introduced in the next session of parliament to protect consumers, staff and taxpayers.
The committee welcomed previous statements by ministers that travel restrictions will only be applied in “extreme circumstances” and added the government “must compensate the industry” if any measures impacting the sector are reimposed.
MPs also said plans to ensure swift COVID-19 testing can be put in place for passengers to travel if required by other countries should be introduced.
The Conservative chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, acknowledged the “difficult position” the government was placed in during the pandemic but said that “action was inconsistent” and left the industry “confused and unable to plan ahead”.
“This resulted in a severe economic deficit for the aviation sector. Thousands of people lost their jobs. Many more could not visit their loved ones,” he said.
“Now that the government has removed all coronavirus-related restrictions on international travel, ministers must get on with protecting the sector against future economic shocks and reassuring passengers that future restrictions will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.
“Legislation is urgently needed to give the industry more flexibility to recruit new staff for the summer, to give the regulator more teeth to intervene on behalf of consumers and to provide protection from airline insolvencies.”
In the report, the committee noted that some Ryanair passengers are still waiting for compensation due to the company legally challenging the CAA enforcement action, four years after the 2018 pilot strike.
Paul Smith, who is the consumer director at the CAA, said stronger enforcement powers would allow “faster action”.
“Proposals outlined in the government’s recent consultation on enforcement powers, which are supported by the Committee, will – if implemented – improve passenger rights and equip the Civil Aviation Authority with better tools to act swiftly and effectively for the benefit of consumers,” he said.
Calls for stronger regulator powers have been welcomed by consumer group Which?, who said the government must “prioritise restoring trust in travel with reforms that deliver for customers” if it wants to future-proof the sector.
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A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Our priority was protecting public health and these measures bought vital time for the rollout of our successful booster programme as we responded to new and concerning variants.
“We also ensured they were in place for no longer than absolutely necessary and the UK was the first country in the G7 to remove all travel restrictions.
“In future, the Government’s default approach will be to use the least stringent measures, to minimise the impact on travel as far as possible and these will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.”