Passengers face fight to get paid when flights are delayed

Airlines are denying or delaying passenger compensation claims only to be told to cough up in more than half of cases that customers take to the regulator, new Which? analysis reveals.

Which? analysis of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data has found that in more than half (53%) of cases it was passengers, not airlines, who were in the right when they took a compensation complaint to the CAA.

Some airlines had an alarmingly high percentage of instances where the aviation body ruled against them. Scandinavia’s largest airline, Norwegian Air, was advised by the regulator to pay up in a staggering 83% of cases. The Spanish airline Vueling, who share the same parent company as British Airways, and budget carrier Ryanair were also told to pay out to passengers in the vast majority of cases, with rulings against them made 79% and 77% of the time respectively.

Of the other high profile airlines that operate in the UK, Thomson Airways were told to pay out in 69% of cases, Thomas Cook was told to pay out to passengers in 41% of instances and Easyjet was told to cough up 39% of the time.

British Airways, who had 1,166 flights delayed by more than three hours in 2016, was advised to pay up in half (48%) of cases.

However, as the CAA has no power to enforce its judgements, airlines won’t always pay out when asked to do so. By far the worst offender for this was Emirates, who were advised to issue compensation in 60% of cases taken to the CAA, but still refused to pay up 74% of the time.

This refusal stems from Emirates not accepting the CAA’s interpretation of the law with regard to compensating passengers who experience a delay on the first leg of a flight that caused them to miss a connecting flight in a non EU country and, as a result, to arrive at their final destination over three hours late.

Under current EU regulations, passengers are entitled to compensation if delayed by more than three hours when flying from the UK or with an EU airline to an EU airport.  Holidaymakers flying short-haul would potentially be able to claim €250 if they are delayed by more than three hours, while long-haul passengers could claim €300 if their plane landed between three or four hours late, or €600 if their flight was at least four hours behind schedule.

By making it unacceptably difficult for passengers to recoup the money that they are entitled to, airlines could potentially be keeping millions of pounds in unclaimed compensation. Which? believes that it is time for airlines to start automatically compensating eligible passengers for delayed and cancelled flights.

In most cases, passengers can no longer take claims to the CAA and must take complaints to one of several alternative dispute resolution bodies (ADR) that airlines can voluntarily sign up to. However, Which? believes the current system is too muddled and doesn’t work in travellers’ best interests. It is calling on the Government to introduce a Transport Ombudsman that all airlines must join, to improve the way in which passenger complaints are resolved.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“Some airlines seem to be making it as difficult as possible for passengers to receive the money that they are rightly entitled to for flight delays.

“We want to see airlines introduce measures so that, where possible, passengers are compensated automatically for delays and cancellations.”

Notes to editors

1. Passengers dissatisfied with an airline’s decision to reject a compensation claim or who got no response to their request within eight weeks were entitled to take their complaint to the CAA.

Under EU legislation, Passengers are legally entitled to claim for a cancelled flight, denied boarding or a delay of more than three hours when flying from an EU airport or with an airline based in the EU.

In 2016 the UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, launched an ombudsman-style service with powers to make legally binding rulings on complaints.

The services are voluntary and to date around two thirds of airlines operating in and out of the UK have signed up to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes approved by the CAA or by other European authorities.

2.     The airlines told to pay up

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3.     Delay Compensation

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4. A Norwegian spokesperson said: “We understand that punctuality is vital for our passengers, and we strive to operate all flights on schedule. We take customer care very seriously and we always maintain a consistent policy regarding delays and cancellations in accordance with EU261”.

5. A Vueling spokesperson said: “Due to the busy period of the summer season and operational disruptions experienced by Vueling in early July 2016, it took the company longer than usual to reply some of our customers´ claims. These claims have already been managed by the company and the payment of compensation to passengers was done fully complying with our obligations under the EU 261/2004 regulation.

“Vueling has a good work relationship with all national enforcement bodies in the European Union, including the CAA, and cooperates with them to apply all requirements raised by the authorities.

“Moreover, the company has since fully transformed and put in place significant improvements in processing customers´ claims, making the processes much faster and easier for the clients. All complaints received by our Customer Care team are being handled in a timely manner and strictly following the EU 261/2004 regulations”.

6. A Ryanair spokesperson said: “These 504 complaints were received in an 8 month period in 2016 when Ryanair carried over 83m customers. This shows just how good Ryanair’s EU261 compliance is. In the last 12 months Ryanair has paid over €40m in EU261 compensation to over 110,000 passengers (with valid claims), which is less than 1% of our traffic. These figures clearly prove that Ryanair both understands and fully complies with our EU261 obligations.”

7. A British Airways spokesperson said: ​We fully honour our EU compensation obligations and process claims as quickly as possible.

“We take all complaints seriously and if customers have cause to raise any concerns we address them as soon as we can.​

“Should customers be dissatisfied with our response they can contact CEDR who we have selected as a professional and impartial adjudicator of claims”.

8. An Easyjet spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities under EU261 seriously, comply with all regulations and have been commended by the CAA for our claim handling. We have also made improvements to our claims process since then making it quicker and easier to claim”.

9. An Emirates spokesperson said: “As one of the world’s largest airlines, we comply with all legal requirements and regulations as set by the relevant authorities.

“The way in which the CAA has communicated this issue is both misleading and unprofessional. As the CAA is well aware, the recent EU guidelines on EC 261 are not intended to amend the law. The issue of EC 261’s application to our flights from the UK involving a stopover in Dubai is currently pending before the Court of Appeal. We will rigorously defend our position, and challenge the blanket application of EC 261 to every situation, without consideration of context or the safety of our passengers. Emirates, like any responsible airline, puts the safety of our passengers first and to be penalised for this is absurd.

“The safety of our passengers and crew always comes first, and many flight delays are caused by factors that are beyond our control and which are not the airline’s responsibility – such as inclement weather, bird strikes, and airport closures. We do everything possible to ensure that any disruption caused to our passengers is minimised. In the event of flight delays or cancellations, we always ensure that our customers are looked after.”



Press Release