Flight compensation: UK passengers will have stronger rights after Brexit

Exclusive: Airlines will be ordered to do more to help delayed passengers claim cash

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 07 April 2018 16:01
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Simon Calder: UK passengers will have stronger rights after Brexit

Passengers will have stronger rights flying from the UK than from EU airports after Brexit.

The government has said it has no intention to change compensation rules on delayed flights, even though the EU is soon to reduce pay-outs.

In addition, airlines could be ordered to make travellers’ entitlements clearer — for example by making on-board announcements advising delayed passengers to claim, or automatically paying compensation.

Airlines, which have long lobbied for less onerous compensation obligations, are dismayed at the new proposals.

Current European passengers’ rights rules, known as EC261/2004, stipulate high pay-outs for delays and cancellations that cannot be attributed to “extraordinary circumstances”.

Passengers on the shortest flights from EU airports who arrive at least three hours late are entitled to €250 (£220). For journeys between 1,500km and 3,500km, the same delay triggers €400 in compensation. And for long-haul flights that arrive four hours or more late, passengers can claim €600.

Proposals being discussed in Brussels would dramatically reduce passengers’ entitlements and the costs to airlines: halving payments for delays of under five hours for short flights, and increasing the threshold for mid-haul and long-haul flights to nine and 12 hours respectively.

But buried in a new document called Beyond the Horizon: The Future of UK Aviation, the government says “the UK will not fall below current standards of protection when we leave the EU”. Therefore, any change in European standards will be irrelevant.

But legal confusion will reign when EU rules are eased. An Air France flight from Manchester to Paris would be subject to two conflicting sets of consumer protection laws: the EU regulations because the French airline is European, and the UK version which will apply to all departures from Britain. Lawyers and claims managers are likely to thrive from the extra complexity.

The government also wants to increase the proportion of travellers claiming cash for delays, and is considering “strengthening or clarifying the requirement for airlines to inform passengers affected by disruption that they might be entitled to compensation”.

Airlines could be ordered to emulate train operators, who typically make on-board announcements and use social media to make passengers aware of their rights.

There have been calls for airlines to pay compensation automatically to passengers who have booked direct, in the same way that Virgin Trains refunds travellers who arrive late.

Airlines already pay hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation each year, and they argue that the extra costs push up fares and jeopardise routes that are only marginally profitable.

A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We will always look after our customers and comply with customer legislation.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the trade association Airlines UK, said: “We support consumers having the same level of protection as the UK leaves the EU, and expect the current rules on compensation for delays, cancellations and denied boarding to apply in the UK following Brexit.

“Just as they do today, airlines will continue to comply with all legal requirements, paying compensation quickly when it is due and making it easy for passengers to claim.“

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