Compensation culture threatens passengers' safety if they fail to take out travel insurance, say airlines


Simon Calder
Monday 26 August 2013 19:17 BST
European rules on flight delays and cancellations could actually threaten passenger welfare
European rules on flight delays and cancellations could actually threaten passenger welfare (Reuters)

European rules on flight delays and cancellations could actually threaten passenger welfare, according to a leading aviation body. The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) has lambasted legislation aimed at protecting passenger rights, saying it promotes a “compensation culture” that will ultimately lead to higher fares – and may place passengers in peril.

The organisation’s chief executive, Dale Keller, said: “Consumers feel they do not need travel insurance, since they hear that the airlines will pay out should anything go wrong. This is leaving more consumers exposed to other risks, including medical.”

He told The Independent: “The evidence comes from airline customer-care departments dealing with consumer claims”. Such passengers are routinely asked by staff if they hold insurance, and the airlines indicate that more people are travelling uninsured because of the perception that all risks are covered when a plane ticket is bought.

The latest survey of UK holidaymakers reveals that almost one-quarter travel without travel insurance – a figure that rises to nearly half in the case of 18-24 year olds. One in four travellers believes, wrongly, they will be repatriated free of charge if they fall ill.

Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers said: “We always advise people to take out travel insurance, especially to cover the cost of any emergency medical treatment.” The average medical claim is £914.

European passenger rights legislation, known as EU261, obliges airlines to provide meals, accommodation and phone calls in the event of a delay, regardless of the cause. Cancellation, overbooking or a delay over three hours entitles the passenger to cash compensation of up to £520, unless the airline can prove it was not to blame.

On a four-hour flight from Manchester to Tenerife, an airline might expect to earn a total of £30,000 in fares. But a three-hour delay could render it liable for over £50,000 in cash compensation. Mr Keller said: “The ‘compensation culture’ and ‘blame game’ that Europe long resisted appears to now be nurtured”.

The aviation consultant, John Strickland, said: “Expectation of compensation for flight delays or cancellations is way out of line compared to other forms of transport, notably trains and boats. Similarly much more is expected than in other consumer contexts such as shops and theatres.”

The airlines maintain that delays and cancellations are quite costly enough in terms of reputation and extra expenses. They point out that other forms of transport such as trains and ferries have nothing like the same obligations, and warn air fares will rise if airlines continue to face such high bills.

European officials describe EU261 legislation as: “One of the resounding achievements of EU transport policy”. They insist the new rules have persuaded the airline industry to mend its ways. However, the Commission is planning to amend the compensation rules to reduce the scope for entitlement. Accommodation in the event of widespread disruption will be capped at three nights, and some short flights on small planes will become exempt from the compensation scheme.

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