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BA ordered to explain its treatment of passengers ahead of strike

British Airways has been ordered by the aviation regulator to explain how it is meeting its consumer rights obligations over next month's pilot strikes.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said passengers whose flights have been cancelled must be offered a rebooking "at the earliest opportunity" which includes flights operated by other airlines.

Swathes of passengers affected by the industrial action have complained about difficulties in making alternative plans through BA after its helplines were inundated with calls.

The carrier is rebooking passengers on flights with airlines from around the world including Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian, but it is not using airlines it does not have an agreement with, such as easyJet.

CAA policy does not accept that the lack of an arrangement should be a barrier to passengers being booked with other airlines.

Richard Stephenson, a director at the regulator, said: "We have been in contact with the airline to determine what has happened and are seeking an explanation to confirm how it complied with its rerouting obligations to consumers.

"Passengers who have seen their flights cancelled should be offered the choice of reimbursement for cancelled flights, alternate travel arrangements under comparable conditions at the earliest opportunity, which includes flights on other airlines, or a new flight at a later date at the passenger's convenience.

"We also expect airlines to proactively provide passengers with information about their rights when flights are cancelled."

The CAA has the power to take enforcement action against airlines for breaches of passenger rights legislation and consumer law, which in extreme cases can lead to carriers being taken to court.

BA said in a statement: "We appreciate the frustration and inconvenience that this strike action has caused our customers and our teams are working tirelessly to help them.

"As soon as we were issued with dates, we contacted airlines across the world to support with rebooking agreements, and since Friday we have been providing customers with the option to travel on other carriers.

"Our contact centres are operating 24/7 and we have brought in additional resources, with over 500 colleagues working to support customers during this time.

"Our teams are providing customers whose flights have been cancelled with options to seek a full refund or rebook, including to a different date of travel, or flying with an alternative airline."

Thousands of passengers were told on Friday night that their flights had been cancelled due to a walkout by members of the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) on September 9, 10 and 27 in a dispute over pay.

Some passengers rebooked flights with other airlines, only to receive another message from BA saying that their original flight would take off as planned.

The CAA said it understands that BA is dealing with each case on an individual basis but added that passengers "should not be left out of pocket".

Adam French, from consumer group Which?, said: "BA must urgently get its act together and ensure that anyone whose flight is cancelled is rerouted regardless of whether it is with a different airline or not.

"The airline also needs to do right by passengers who spent hundreds of pounds on new flights when they were wrongly told that their original flights had been cancelled and make sure they are not left out of pocket."