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UK airlines accused of obstructing legitimate compensation applications for long flight delays

  • @SimonCalder

As UK airlines prepare for a wave of retrospective compensation claims by delayed passengers, some carriers have been accused of obstructing legitimate applications for long flight delays.

Last year the European Court of Justice upheld a claim that a flight delay of three hours or more amounts to a cancellation under passenger rights legislation – known as EU261. Depending on the length of the flight, passengers may qualify for compensation of between €250 and €600.

This week a judge in Staffordshire found in favour of a couple whose Thomas Cook flight from Tenerife in 2009 was delayed by 22 hours. Delayed journeys made up to six years ago may qualify for compensation under European legislation, but travel companies are making stipulations that appear intended to frustrate claims.

The standard claim form sent out by Britain’s biggest tour operator, Thomson, insists it is “essential” for the passenger to provide the original flight tickets.

Graeme Ward of Devon is seeking compensation for a six-hour delay on a Thomson Airways flight home from Madeira to Exeter three years ago. He said: “They are asking for the impossible. Who would keep old flights tickets for several years? This is just a ploy to avoid deserved compensation.”

When The Independent contacted Thomson about the demand, the company said: “Confirmation letters/emails or credit card statements can suffice especially when they are provided in conjunction with other supporting documents”. Thomson described its process for dealing with delay claims as “fair and accurate”.

Wendy Baylis was on a Thomas Cook Airlines from Palma to Manchester in September that was delayed by five hours. The judgement allowing claims for delays was handed down the following month. But when Mrs Baylis applied for compensation, Thomas Cook rejected the claim, saying: “Failing to complain within 28 days of return may reduce or extinguish any rights the guest has”.

The Independent contacted Thomas Cook on Mrs Baylis’s behalf, and was told: “On EU261 specifically, the requirement above does not mean that we will reject claims which are made more than 28 days after the customers’ flights”.

Airlines can avoid liability if they can demonstrate that the delay was due to “extraordinary circumstances”. This includes air-traffic control issues, poor weather and industrial action. But some airlines are using this defence even if the delay is due to operational decisions by the airline.

Dave Sexton from Worthing was delayed for four hours on a Monarch flight from Malaga to Gatwick last October. The airline chose to switch the assigned aircraft to cover for a defective jet serving Sharm El Sheikh. The airline told Mr Sexton “This was indeed an extraordinary circumstance that could not have been reasonably prevented by Monarch”.

Mr Sexton is challenging this view with the Civil Aviation Authority, which adjudicates on such cases.

A Which? spokesperson said: “The European Court of Justice's ruling clearly states that airlines should compensate passengers whose flights have been delayed by three hours or more, unless the delay was beyond the airline's control. Airlines need to play fair and give passengers the compensation they are entitled to.”

On Christmas Eve, Carol Garvey of south London was flying on easyJet from Gatwick to Paphos when the flight was diverted to Brussels because of a mechanical issue. The replacement plane that the airline sent was also faulty, and a third jet was finally despatched to pick up the stranded passengers.

Ms Garvey said “All I was offered by the airline was a voucher entitling me to one checked bag and an assigned seat on my next easyJet flight”. Under EU rules, the compensation due for a flight of that length is €400. But easyJet said: “Guidance from the CAA is that they consider a fault discovered during the operation of the flight concerned to be extraordinary”.

Among other cases investigated by The Independent was a passenger on a delayed British Airways flight from Gatwick to Bermuda who was told, when attempting to claim online: “Our records show flight BA2233 has not been cancelled. We regret that we are unable to proceed with your claim.”

For The Independent’s online guide to passengers’ rights, visit independent.co.uk/passengerrights