American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, and Turkish Airlines, have been warned to stop refusing to pay flight delay compensation claims – or face court action.
A review of the top 31 airlines operating in the UK by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), found that these five airlines weren’t paying compensation where a passenger experiences a delay on the first leg of a flight that causes them to miss a connecting flight.
However, under European rules, passengers are legally entitled to compensation of up to 600 euros per person if they arrive at their final destination more than three hours late – including if they booked a connecting flight – as long as the delay was caused by the airline and not by so called “extraordinary circumstances”, such as bad weather.
These rights apply to any flight departing an EU airport, regardless of the nationality of the airline, and to EU flights that land at an EU airport.
See our Flight delays and cancellations compensation guide for full help reclaiming
If the five airlines ignore the CAA’s request it can take them to court to enforce action. Ultimately airlines face an unlimited fine if they fail to comply.
Richard Moriarty, director of consumers and markets at the CAA, says: “Airlines’ first responsibility should be looking after their passengers, not finding ways in which they can prevent passengers upholding their rights. So it’s disappointing to see a small number of airlines continuing to let a number of their passengers down by refusing to pay them the compensation they are entitled to.”
How does this affect my claim?
It’s unclear how long it will take for the airlines to sign legal undertakings agreeing to pay compensation. But once they have, it means passengers going forward can submit claims via the usual means, and that Singapore Airlines will presumably lift its hold on claims and begin to process them (we’ve yet to have a response from the airline on what it will do).
For those who’ve had claims rejected by the airlines in the past, you’ll be able to re-submit them as long as you haven’t already taken the case to court. If you’ve taken the case to court, you can only appeal the decision within 21 days of it being made.
However, while passengers can claim compensation back to 2005 when the EU rules came into force, in reality, claims are only likely to be considered going back six years from the affected flight – as this is how far back courts in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales will consider cases (it’s five years in Scotland).
The regulator is also calling on these and all other airlines not using alternative dispute resolution schemes (ADR) to commit to giving their passengers access to these complaint services as soon as possible – Turkish Airlines is the only one of the five to offer an ADR scheme. Passengers use ADR schemes where they first have no joy complaining to the airline itself.
Vueling faces action for failing to meet minimum standards
In related news, the CAA has also launched enforcement action against Vueling airline for failing to comply with its minimum standards for care and assistance.
In addition, a number of airlines have had to amend their policies on downgrading - where passengers are downgraded to a lower seat class - and make it clear that customers are entitled to cash compensation in these circumstances rather than just a voucher for free travel.
What do the airlines say?
Moneywise has contacted all six airlines for a response but has only received four at the time of writing. We’ll update this news story if we get any further comments.
An American Airlines spokesperson says: “American is aware of the connecting flight portion of the Civil Aviation Authority report, which relates to a discrete legal issue involving EC261. We disagree with the CAA’s interpretation of this legal issue and look forward to additional conversations on the matter.”
A spokesperson for Etihad says: “Etihad Airways has been engaged in constructive dialogue with the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK on the issue of passenger compensation over several months. We take such matters very seriously and in no way look to breach the law. Therefore, before even completing the dialogue, we find the CAA’s approach wholly ‘unprofessional and unacceptable’ to publicly blame Etihad Airways for infringements to passengers’ rights which we unreservedly deny.
“Further to our own review, we categorically state we have not contravened the law, yet pledge to maintain dialogue with the CAA and regulators to ensure we continue to have robust compensation policies in place.”
A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines says: “Singapore Airlines has been in contact with the UK CAA on this issue for some time. There is a lack of clarity in the law which is currently the subject of ongoing litigation before the Court of Appeal. We will continue to work with the CAA to resolve our differences with respect to the application of EC Regulation 261/2004 to missed connections."
Vueling would only state that it's "liaising directly with the CAA".