READERS' LIVES: The arrogance of the airlines

Compensation for air travellers ... Premium Bonds. Your financial queries answered
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The Independent Online
I read with interest what you recently said about compensation for train travellers who are delayed. Life seems rather different in the air. I've travelled twice from Gatwick to Glasgow with Air UK in recent months. Both flights were delayed. All I've had as a result of complaining is an apology and three bottles of wine as a gesture of goodwill. Can that be right?

JM, East Sussex

Unless you are prepared to take on Air UK through the courts to test the law (and risk losing), there's nothing more you can do. "It's a nonsense that people choose to pay a lot of money for the extra speed of air travel if they then suffer serious delays," says Anne Harvey of The Consumers' Association.

But the nature of the contract between you and an airline is stacked heavily in favour of the airline. A House of Lords judgment last year involved British Airways passengers who felt the airline should have known better than to land in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. They lost, which shows consumers have few rights.

Your second UK flight to Glasgow was delayed because of "air-traffic restrictions". Air passengers might have to accept that many risks - such as adverse weather - are beyond the control of an airline. But your first, much longer delay, arose from a technical problem and Air UK's wait for a replacement part. It does seem that some airlines have more technical problems than others and are less equipped to provide quick solutions. In an ideal world, airlines would take responsibility and provide compensation for delays caused by their own failings.

In America, the authorities take a tougher line on airlines with bad records.

On this side of the Atlantic the best chance of a better deal for air travellers probably lies in Brussels, though compensation for delays is not something on which new regulations are imminent. The point of getting tough with airlines is not that passengers will be compensated for delays but that airlines will have an incentive to avoid delays in the first place.

The best thing you and countless others with a similar experience can do is to write to your MP and MEP. There is more likelihood of bringing about change if more people register their dissatisfaction with those who may have some influence.

Passengers can, incidentally, claim cash compensation on the spot if they cannot get onto a scheduled air flight on which they have booked. Bizarrely it is common practice for airlines to overbook on the grounds that many passengers do not take up their reserved seats. And you do have greater rights to compensation for disappointment and distress if you buy a flight as part of a package holiday.

Is there any simple way of finding out whether any of my long held Premium Bonds has ever won a prize? SR, London

Write to the Premium Bond Office with your numbers and ask them to check whether you have won any prizes. The address is National Savings Premium Bonds, Blackpool, FY3 9YP. Write to the same office whenever you change your address.

Main Post Offices keep a copy of the London Gazette. This lists current prize winners and includes a supplement listing all unclaimed prizes. Winning numbers are added to the unclaimed prize list about 18 months after they win a prize.

q Write to Steve Lodge, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, and include a telephone number. Do not enclose SAEs or any documents that you wish to be returned. We cannot give personal replies or guarantee to answer every letter we receive. We accept no legal responsibility for any advice given.

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