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The UK competition regulator has launched an investigation into the failure of airlines to offer cash refunds to travellers who have been unable to take their flights because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said its move follows reports that airlines may have breached consumers’ rights by not offering cash refunds in cases where travel restrictions meant people could not legally take the flight.

The CMA cited the example of consumers being unable to travel for non-essential purposes in the UK or abroad during the second lockdown in England in November. The regulator said it was aware of cases where flights were not cancelled and customers were not offered refunds even though they could not lawfully travel. Instead, many were offered the option to rebook or receive a voucher.

The CMA said airlines may be under severe financial pressure but that does not mean that consumers should be “left unfairly out of pocket”.

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