by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, April 13, 2018
The process of claiming compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight is notoriously non-user-friendly, to the point where some travellers are put off following through with their legal right.
So much so that according to the latest figures, more than £4million in reparation is currently owed to passengers in the UK, with Thomson racking up the highest amount of debt (£2.4million to approximately 5,000 delayed passengers).
Furthermore, according to UK law firm Bott & Co - which drew the data from the Registry Trust Online, a company that records all County Court Judgments in England and Wales - 73 per cent of claims that have been made to Thomson were wrongfully declined by the carrier.
And these are the passengers who bothered to try. Plenty more simply don't have the time to wrestle with the bureaucracy. Maruis Fermi, UK manager at the flight compensation website AirHelp, said: "We know that each year 8 million air passengers are entitled to compensation for a delayed, cancelled or overbooked flight, but only two per cent will go on to actually file a claim."
For those who do, Bott & Co solicitor Coby Benson says: "Many of our customers have tried to recover compensation direct from the airline but been ignored or fobbed off so they have had no other choice but to come to us for help."
Thomson in particular appears to have a bad track record not only for refusing to pay up until lawyers get involved, but also for failing to make payments within the deadline even after being ordered by the courts to do so. Of the eight top offenders, Virgin came out best with a relatively modest £3,339 owed.
Behind Thomson is easyJet, who has failed to pay £1.5m in compensation to more than 3,000 delayed passengers; and after that Ryanair, who were found to owe over £334,000, according to the Registry Trust.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Thomson said: "We’re extremely concerned and disappointed by the volume of these claims. We are conducting a full and thorough investigation to understand what has happened and to resolve the situation."
In the meantime, here's how to claim back the money you might be owed from airlines, stretching as far back as six years...
What are the rules on delays?
If you are departing from an EU airport on any airline, or arriving at an EU airport on an EU carrier (this includes Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) you are entitled to care and compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004 for a delayed arrival time of more than three hours - though, if the flight was delayed then it needs to be over three hours to get compensation. If the flight was cancelled and you take a replacement flight then that flight only needs to be over two hours later than the arrival time or the original flight in order to get compensation.
The airline must provide food and drink appropriate to the time of day (this is often in the form of a voucher) and a means of communicating your delay or a refund of the cost of essential calls.
For overnight delays, the airline must provide hotel accommodation and transport to reach it - or to return home. When there’s a major disruption, airline staff may not be able to assist in booking hotels. In such cases, you can make your own arrangements and claim the cost back. But don’t expect a full refund for an expensive hotel unless there’s no alternative. Supporting receipts are essential.
What compensation am I entitled to?
For delays of three hours or more you are entitled to a cash payment of €250 (£230) for short flights and €400 (£365) for a flight distance of 1,500-3,500km. For flights of over 3,500km you will receive €300 (£275) for a delay of 3-4 hours; €600 (£550) for more than four hours.
Are there exceptions?
Yes. The compensation is not payable in the case of an “extraordinary circumstance”. For example, when the delay is due to war or civil unrest, security issues, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions (including an airport’s failure to de-ice the aircraft on time), air traffic control restrictions, strikes by airport staff, a medical emergency on board, and some crew issues.
Can I claim if my flight delay happened a while ago?
You can claim for qualifying delayed flights over the past six years. Airlines have tried to limit claims to the past two years but this has been rejected by the courts.
Can I claim if I travelled on a codeshare flight?
It is the nationality of the airline operating the flight that applies. For example, if you are delayed on a flight from New York to London booked through British Airways but the operating carrier is American Airlines, you are not covered by the Regulation even if your e-ticket shows a BA flight number.
Can I claim if a shorter delay means I miss a connecting flight?
Yes, if all the flights are made under the same booking reference and the connection is made at an EU airport. For example, if you are due to fly from London via Madrid to Buenos Aires and you miss your connection in Madrid because the flight from London arrives an hour late, you can claim for long-haul compensation as long as the delay in arriving at your final destination, in this case Buenos Aires, is more than three hours.
Can I claim for a delayed flight outside the EU on a non-EU airline if my journey began in the UK?
It depends. If, for example, you were flying London-Dubai-Singapore and your London-Dubai flight arrived more than three hours late you can make a claim. However, if the delay was on the Dubai-Singapore sector you probably would not be eligible for compensation. There is also no compensation for delays on any sector of your return flight to the UK.
The airline has offered me vouchers as compensation, what should I do?
It is your choice whether to accept them or not. The Regulation says that the airline should pay compensation in cash.
I have submitted a compensation claim to the airline but it says the delay was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
What do I do next?
Double-check that you have a case by reading through the CAA’s ‘Delays and Cancellations’ information at caa.co.uk/passengers. If your delayed flight departed from a UK airport you can ask the CAA’s Passenger Advice and Complaints team (020 7453 6888; caa.co.uk) to review your case and it will contact the airline on your behalf if you have a valid claim. Use the online form to send details of your complaint including copies of supporting information.
However, most large airline have now signed up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme, in which cases, the CAA will no longer look at the complaint. In these cases, if your cases is not resolved after eight weeks, you can refer it to the ADRS - these are listed at caa.co.uk/Passengers/Resolving-travel-problems/How-the-CAA-can-help/Alternative-dispute-resolution/.
If your flight departed from another EU country you need to contact the National Enforcement Body (NEB) in the country where the airline has its home base. The NEB will eventually - usually months later - provide a written ruling on your claim. This is not legally binding but most airlines pay out at this point. Follow this link for a list of NEBs.
Is there another route to pursue my claim?
You can take a UK-based airline to court once you have a written rejection. Use the Money Claim Online service, which costs £25-£60 depending on the value of your claim (to a maximum of £1,000). This service only covers England and Wales. For Scotland visit scotcourts.gov.uk; for Northern Ireland visit courtsni.gov.uk.
I’m worried about all the form-filling involved. Is there another way?
Yes. Solicitors specialising in flight delay compensation will do the legal work for you. The leading UK company is Bott & Co (01625 415 850; bottonline.co.uk) which will deal with flights that depart or arrive in England and Wales and any eligible flights on UK-registered airlines (for example, Glasgow-Malaga with, say, Thomas Cook but not with Ryanair). Its website has a useful free flight checker to find out if you have a valid claim. Dutch-based EU Claim (020 3318 3583; euclaim.co.uk) runs a similar service. Both firms operate on a no-win-no-fee basis but take around 30 per cent of the payout. It takes about six months to get a binding judgement if the case goes to court.
Alternatively, flight compensation company AirHelp has a tool on its app that can scan users' boarding passes and claim back money on their behalf. It checks if your flight has been delayed or cancelled and tells you how much money you should be able to claim back from the airline, then has lawyer bots that can do it for you, in return for a 25 to 50 per cent cut of the payout, depending on whether legal action is required.
Users can then file a claim within the app. The company estimates this should only take a couple of seconds. What if my flight is cancelled?
When a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled at the last minute, the airline must pay for a hotel if an overnight stay is required and subsistence for all those stranded until a replacement flight is provided. Similar rules and amounts for compensation apply as for delays and there are particular conditions and variations depending on how far in advance the flight was cancelled (see caa.co.uk/consumers ).