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Flight delay compensation: It's an airline lottery for passengers

Helen Knapman
Senior News Reporter
16 August 2013

In the first summer of flights since hard new EU rules on delay compensation were announced, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal huge differences between airlines' approaches to paying flight delay compensation.

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Flight Delay Compensation

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EU rules, which were clarified last October, say passengers whose flights are significantly delayed can, in certain circumstances, claim up to €600 (£522) per person, dating back to 2005. See our Flight Delays guide for how to do this, as well as information on your rights when a flight is cancelled.

But many airlines seem to be deliberately trying to reject or stonewall claims.

In a poll of over 3,000 people carried out by MoneySavingExpert.com, we found Jet2, Thomson and Ryanair are the worst offenders, with respectively only 2%, 8% and 10% of claims being upheld in the consumer's favour.

These three airlines also have huge numbers of claims waiting for a decision at 63%, 62% and 42% respectively.

British Airways, on the other hand, is eight times more likely to pay up than Thomson and 30 times more likely to pay up than Jet2, upholding 65% of claims.

Flight delay payout league table
Airline (i) % of claims upheld % of claims dismissed % with a decision pending
British Airways 65% 15% 20%
Easyjet 43% 24% 33%
Thomas Cook 35% 21% 44%
Virgin Atlantic 20% 36% 44%
Monarch 17% 34% 49%
Ryanair 10% 49% 42%
Thomson 8% 35% 62%
Jet2 2% 35% 63%
Other - European Airlines 20% 39% 40%
Other - Worldwide airlines 26% 31% 43%
(i) 3,550 votes received in total by 12 August. Only airlines with over 100 votes each are included.

You can fight rejected claims

However, if you've had a claim rejected by your airline you can fight it. Depending on where you flew from and where the airline is based, you can appeal to either the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), another European regulator, or to the European Consumer Centre.

Martin Lewis, creator of MoneySavingExpert.com says: "Some airlines are clearly playing hardball here, even though the law is pretty plain. We see people rejected with excuses such as 'your claim's over two years old', even though you can go back to 2005.

"Therefore it's no coincidence that there are huge discrepancies between the success rates of different airlines – some play fair, some play dirty.

"Yet no one should read this as saying only go for it with the airlines that pay out, if you've a right to the cash. If you're wrongly rejected, stand up for yourself. Many firms do it in the hope you'll run away with your tail between your legs.

'Families could be due thousands'

"You can often take the case to the Civil Aviation Authority. While its decision isn't binding, it puts pressure on the airlines, and you could then go to the small claims court – after all, families who have been stranded entertaining kids in smelly airport lounges for an age could be due thousands of pounds here.

"However, it's worth remembering the compensation is fixed, regardless of the amount you paid for a flight – which in some cases is harsh on the airlines.

"I don't want to push unnecessary compensation culture. For someone on a £10 flight, only just three hours delayed, which didn't bother them, they have to question whether it's fair to push for £220. I'd urge caution or it'll push up all our air fares."

The CAA says in the cases it's assessed, it believes airlines have incorrectly refused compensation in 40% of cases. But it hopes that following the publication of new guidelines in July, this proportion will decrease with airlines making the correct assessment in the first instance (see the More could claim thanks to new guidelines MSE News story).

How do I claim?

To claim compensation for a delayed flight you need to meet certain criteria, which we've outlined below.

  • It's only for EU flights. You must be on a plane that left from an EU airport, or arrived at an EU airport (but then it must be an EU airline).
  • You can go back to 2005. This doesn't just apply to recent flights. If you've been delayed at any time since 2005, you have a right to compensation under EU rules. Though in the UK, it's easier in practice if it's been since 2007.
  • It must have been the airline's fault to claim. The delay had to be under the airline's control. Staffing problems, poor planning, and under-booking all count. Political unrest or bad weather don't.
  • Delays must be over three hours to get compensation. The amount you get is fixed solely on the flight length and delay time. So a 1,000km flight delayed by four hours is €250 (£220) per person, while a 4,000km flight delayed for five hours is €600 (£520) per person.
  • How to claim. Write to the airline stating the details of your delay and asking for the compensation. If it rejects you, depending on where you flew from and the airline you flew with, go to the CAA, the European Consumer Centre, or the regulator in the country you departed from to get a ruling.

For full information, including free template letters, see our Flight Delays guide.

What the airlines say

In a statement, Jet2 says: "This poll clearly demonstrates that as EU legislation on passenger rights currently stand, neither customers nor the airline industry have clarity on the situation.

"We regret this ambiguity, which has caused so much confusion, and support the ongoing review of the legislation to make the rules fairer, clearer, and simpler to apply for all our customers.

"Our priority is and always has been to provide passengers with friendly service at a great value. That's why we will continue to work hard to ensure that the travel industry is fair for our customers as well as for airlines."

We are awaiting comment from Thomson and Ryanair and will update this news story as soon as we hear anything.

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