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Flight compensation and the airlines that won’t pay

Passengers not being paid what they're owed

Flight compensation and the airlines that won’t pay

Passengers who challenge airlines over compensation for denied boarding or delays have their complaints upheld in over half of cases, according to statistics seen by Which? Travel.

Fliers who aren’t satisfied with an airline’s decision to reject a claim for compensation, or get no response within eight weeks, can take their complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In its most recent figures it found that in 53% of cases it was passengers, not airlines, who were in the right about flight compensation claims.

Some airlines had an alarmingly high percentage of decisions against them. Norwegian Air was advised by the CAA to pay up in a staggering 83% of cases. Vueling (79%) and Ryanair (77%) were also told to pay out to passengers in the vast majority of cases.

British Airways, which had 1,166 flights delayed by more than three hours in 2016, were advised to pay up in 48% of cases.

The airlines reply 

We asked Vueling, BA, Ryanair and Norwegian about these figures. Vueling admitted that it had ‘operational disruptions’ in July 2016, meaning that it took longer than usual to reply to customers’ claims. It says it has since improved its response times.

BA have since signed-up to an arbitration scheme and it said: ‘Should customers be dissatisfied with our response they can contact CEDR, who we have selected as a professional and impartial adjudicator of claims.’ CEDR, unlike the CAA, do have the power to enforce its decisions, however it charges £25 for unsuccessful claims.

Ryanair said that it ‘understands and fully complies with EU 261 obligations’ but neither it, BA or Norwegian explained why they forced customers to resort to the CAA on claims that should have been paid.

Refusing to pay flight compensation

In most cases the airlines did ultimately pay out. However, as the CAA has no power to impose its judgements, some still refused. Emirates was advised to issue compensation in 60% of cases taken to the CAA, but refused to pay up in 74% of those cases.

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 EU airline to an EU airport. However, Emirates, along with American Airlines, Etihad, Singapore and Turkish, don’t accept the CAA’s interpretation of the law.

These airlines say that they do not pay compensation to 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. This has led the regulator to take ‘enforcement action’ against them.

We contacted all the airlines for comment, but American, Singapore and Turkish did not reply. Emirates and Etihad simply repeated their claims that the law doesn’t apply in the case of missed connections outside the EU.

Best and worst airlines – 11,000 flights and 35 airlines rated by customers

Automatic compensation for delayed flights

By making it unacceptably difficult for passengers to recoup the money that they are entitled to, airlines could potentially be keeping millions in unclaimed compensation.

Which? believes that it is time for airlines to start automatically compensating passengers for delayed and cancelled flights. It is also calling on the government to introduce a Transport Ombudsman that all airlines must join, to improve the way in which passenger complaints are resolved.

Read more about our upgrade airline compensation campaign.


  Flights to UK airports delayed by more than three hours in 2016

% of complaints where the CAA advised the airline to pay compensation

% of cases where the airline still refused to pay compensation

BRITISH AIRWAYS 1,166 48% 13%
EASYJET 1,513 39% 24%
EMIRATES 19 60% 74%
FLYBE 511 26% 15%
IBERIA 11 73% 3%
JET2 166 27% 35%
KLM 20 29% 15%
LUFTHANSA 20 43% 24%
MONARCH 129 53% 8%
NORWEGIAN 205 83% 7%
RYANAIR 800 77% 19%
THOMAS COOK 96 41% 13%
VUELING 103 79% 4%
WIZZ AIR 107 55% 20%
FOOTNOTES: All data provided by the Civil Aviation Authority. (a) Data for whole of 2016 collated by the CAA. (b) Data from the CAA’s list of complaints specifically about EC 261 legislation (delay, denied boarding and cancellations) in the year up to August 2016.
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