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Updated: 16 Jun 2022

Airlines fail to provide evidence behind government plans to weaken passenger rights, when challenged by Which?

In the wake of weeks of airport chaos, Which? warns government against slashing  passenger compensation based on airline lobbying

Government proposals to drastically reduce penalties paid by carriers for delayed or cancelled domestic flights are based on airlines’ complaints about an excessive compensation burden. But when Which? challenged seven major airlines to provide evidence of the amount of compensation paid in recent years, all refused.

In its impact assessment on amending compensation rules, the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted its plan followed lobbying from airlines, which claimed compensation fees could amount to up to three per cent of their annual turnover. However, no evidence to back up these claims was produced. The DfT’s proposals would significantly reduce the amount airlines are required to pay out to customers for not running an on time service. 

Which? challenged British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Ryanair, TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air to provide information on flights potentially affected by compensation claims, and the amounts they have paid out in recent years. But no information or evidence was provided. 

BA and easyJet declined to provide any data, citing commercial sensitivity. TUI did not provide any information. And Jet2, Ryanair, Virgin and Wizz Air simply didn’t reply.

And in response to a freedom of information request by Which?, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had ‘no information’ on how much compensation airlines have paid out in the last 10 years.

Without the data requested, Which? believes that it is impossible for the government, consumer groups or regulators to evaluate the current UK flight compensation regime, or work on how to improve it.

Airport chaos: Passenger rights ignored

Recent weeks have demonstrated the importance of passenger rights. In the worst disruption across UK airports in years, thousands of travellers have faced last-minute flight cancellations and chaos at airports as the industry struggles with staff shortages. 

Airlines have added to the chaos by failing to inform passengers of, or simply refusing, their rights to rerouting and compensation. And Which? has warned that it can take months, or even years, for passengers to receive the compensation payments they are due; a problem compounded by an aviation regulator with limited powers to intervene when airlines break the rules.

But rather than strengthen passenger rights, DfT’s proposed new system would significantly reduce the amount of compensation passengers can receive for severely delayed or cancelled domestic flights. Which? research found the reforms could slash average payouts by £163 per passenger, while saving airlines tens of thousands for a single flight.

Which? calls on government to re-think proposals

Which? and travel industry representatives have written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, urging him to abandon the proposed reforms and instead focus on strengthening passenger rights and the regulator’s enforcement powers in a market affected by persistent law-breaking by airlines.

Which? believes that the compensation framework is an essential deterrent against unfair practices such as overbooking and denied boarding, and is concerned that these practices could once again become commonplace if the rules are overhauled, leading to a further degradation of trust in airlines, hampering the recovery of the travel industry.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for the government to rush through plans to weaken passenger rights. Airlines are hiding the truth about the impact of compensation payouts on their business, and the recent chaos at UK airports and disgraceful treatment of travellers by some airlines shows why passenger rights desperately need to be strengthened.’