/ Travel & Leisure

Should all airlines offer automatic compensation for flight delays?

flight delays

A delayed or cancelled flight can ruin a holiday and claiming compensation can be a frustratingly drawn-out process. That’s why we’re calling on all airlines to implement automatic compensation. 

According to Which?’s analysis of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data, almost 1.2m air passengers were hit by extensive flight delays last year. This means many passengers may have been entitled to compensation under current EU regulation.

Holiday blues

My recent holiday to Ibiza was exactly what a holiday is meant to be: too much sun, sea and sangria. It was my first experience of an all-inclusive holiday and having the added effort of sourcing food and drink taken away was a delight. That’s not to say that we didn’t pop into the town to sample the authentic cuisine.

After all that R&R, my better half and I were fully recuperated and ready(ish) to face the ‘work, work, work, eat, sleep, repeat’ routine that awaited. However, we weren’t expecting the stresses of the real world to encroach on our holiday at the outward bound check-in desk.

On arrival at Ibiza Airport we were welcomed by a message, emblazoned in bright yellow, and alternating between Spanish and English. Our flight was delayed.

An hour or so later, a representative from the tour operator we booked through came round to let us know that our plane would be delayed by a full six hours! Faces red with frustration, we patiently waited to be checked in, graciously accepted the €30 food and drink voucher, and went to the departures lounge.

Yes, we were fed and watered and, as a Which? employee, I knew exactly what I needed to do to claim compensation, but we were still wasting our day doing nothing when we could’ve been on a beach or on our sofa.Thank goodness we weren’t on our way to an important business meeting, a family engagement or flying out for a holiday and suffering an even longer delay.

When we eventually took off at 1535 (we were due to fly at 1035), the pilot informed us the plane had been stuck in Moscow overnight. Armed with all this information, my girlfriend began the compensation process as soon as we got in. After completing the relevant forms, we were told to wait 56 days(!) before we heard back.

Wider issue

Of course, we aren’t the only ones to be hit by severe delays. Statistics from five years ago reveal that EasyJet, Ryanair and British Airways have seen an increase in the number of passengers suffering lengthy delays to short haul journeys.

Over the last five years EasyJet has seen a 111% increase in the number of passengers delayed by three hours or more, with the total now standing at 191,000. Ryanair and British Airways have seen their figures almost double over this period to 90,000 and 131,000 respectively.

If, like me, you flew short haul for your holiday, you would potentially be able claim €250 if you were delayed by more than three hours. Long-haul passengers could claim €300 if you arrived three to four hours late, rising to €600 if your flight was at least four hours late.

Should you have experienced a delayed or cancelled flight in the same way as me, you can use our new-and-improved tool to start your claim here:

Claim for a flight delay

BA’s catastrophic IT failure over the spring bank holiday this year was a huge catalyst behind the launch of our new Upgrade Airline Compensation campaign, which called on British Airways to introduce automatic compensation. Now we’re opening the campaign up to apply pressure on all airlines to implement automatic compensation.

You can support us by signing the petition below.


I am not clear on how a system would differentiate between flights delayed by force majeure [erupting volcanoes, strikes, fighting passengers, hoaxes] and by airline made problems. Does your article split up the categories when talking of delays?

I note the number of delays on EasyJet have gone up 111% in five years. Is that a tribute to them carrying many more passengers, and or a greater number of aircraft creating knock-on problems.?

Overall an automatic system would be sensible but it will increase airline costs in payments out but decrease their administration costs by refunding directly to the ticket purchasing account. Deciding if it was an airline fault or not will need to be confirmed very early in the process.

Not directly on subject but relevant to air travellers comfort and safety –

I do not doubt the frustration and inconvenience suffered by passengers because of delays. But it must be kept in mind that ultimately it is the tickets paid for by passengers that are going to fund the compensation schemes. Generous and automatic compensation = higher fares.

I agree with Tim Dawson, Dorothea Barnes and Patricia Cox entirely.

TimDawson, do you not believe that a passenger who suffers a deficient service should pay less for the service than a passenger who enjoys a perfect service?

Dorothea Barnes says:
29 July 2017

It’s like with everything else. We can’t turn the clock back fifty years when there was less population, less wealth to be able to go off to faraway places, just generally less demand. There must be a safe limit as to how many planes are allowed in air space. You can’t keep flying more and more people to more and more destinations without expecting there to be problems. We should be counting ourselves lucky to be able to fly where we want. As always, the British public expect the best service for the cheapest price.

It’s not always the airlines fault when there are delays and also it’s the travelers who will foot the bill due to higher fares I imagine! I think were fast heading towards an American style where there’s a law suit for everything!

Exactly 180 minutes delay. I bet they say that was not long enough for the 3 hours! 56 days is far too long to wait for a response.

I agree with Tim Dawson… Anything you claim will be added to the future ticket price. think about this when you next book a flight.

Three hours is nothing. I have been delayed for 20 hours in the past.

Just because you can claim, doesn’t mean you have to.

My only grumble with delays is lack of regular, updated information. It’s not difficult….

Surely the way forward would be compulsory insurance to cover delays and costs involved. Then everyone travelling would share the cost of unfortunate incidents and share the benefits of more competitive fares.

It is only fair that certain vulnerable people have to endure discomfort and not have the means to travel in difficult conditions. I do think that Travel Insurance ought to be costed in for the customer to be able to get immediate compensation from the airline, so that they are not out of pocket from losing their holiday as a result of being unable to continue because of an allotted timescale. The Airlines need to be made responsible for not keeping their customers properly informed and be penalised for their bad management of the situation. People invest a great deal in their holiday, which ought to be a special occasion and a dream to be fulfilled with a certain measure of confidence and satisfaction.

Looks like to me Airlines want your business but clearly do not want to know when things go pear shape

We should all be able to get compensation from the government for the massive delay in leaving the EU

Neil Armstrong says:
29 July 2017

[Sorry, your comment has been removed for being rude and/or offensive. Please ensure your comments align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Robert Welsh says:
29 July 2017

It’s all very well for people like you who have been to the moon to talk. Your flight left on time and was watched by a global audience

bigfkk, anyone who thinks that it can take less than 5 or even 10 years to untangle the UK from the EU is living in cloud cookoo land. Those same people who are foolish enough to think that it can be done in two years are the same fools who voted to leave.

Unfortunately, our global economy seems to have spawned a global arrogance. Large corporations, such as airline companies, appear to have lost sight of customer care and think only of their own bottom line, cramming more seats into smaller and smaller spaces to optimise revenue is all fine and dandy for them but the increase in health risks to passengers seems to escape their notice. Flight delays may cause inconvenience but DVT puts lives at risk and the airlines should be liable for the increased risk that their policies impose on their customers.

Transcontinental flights are an everyday necessity in our modern world, just as train and bus services are necessary for domestic movement but all these companies are cutting services, comfort, satisfaction and safety to the bone in order to increase profits. This can only be the result of global greed and a complete disregard for the needs of the customer.

Richard Brown says:
29 July 2017

I’m sure that airlines don’t want their flights to be delayed, increased compensation would just get added back into the price of tickets so what would be the point other than bolstering our compensation culture?

They might pull their fingers out then might they not, and we can all get on getting to our holiday resort or indeed back home. its not rocket science is it.

Richard Brown, do you not believe that a passenger who suffers a deficient service should pay less for the service than a passenger who enjoys a perfect service?

Delays are certainly a problem across the board with our public transport but at the moment I think the worst of the problems is this double booking that seems to be rife amongst airlines which ends up with a passenger or more losing their booking. It is not as if we are talking waiting another 10 minutes for the next bus or train here is it?

I really cannot understand how they can actually overbook. You have a set number of seats and can therefore only sell to a set number of bottoms to sit on them . I can only think that these airlines are heartless and greedy in that they overbook by 1 or 2 or 3 … each time to cover the non arrival of passengers who arrive late or not at all, sometimes through no fault of their own. The double booking isn’t noticed when there are late arrivals of course but when there are no late arrivals, the media hears about it.

That old adage that what you hear or see is only the surface of the problem must ring true here. The airlines are being greedy and messing with those who pay them to exist in the first place.

Can of worms truly opened. I cannot understand how they actually get away with it, more so recently, when on 2 separate occasions children have actually been removed from flights and left alone at the airports.

It is disgusting!

koolboy says:
29 July 2017

Why not save the trouble and the hassle of going abroad for a holiday, there are some lovely places in Britain. Also spending money here is better than spending abroad to other countries. I know a lot of people will not agree with me, but all I can say is, “They certainly are not patriotic to their own homeland”.

There are many parts of the EU that are far more interesting than the UK where I’ve lived for most of my life. Although I’m British first, European second, I am a nevertheless a proud European and citizen of the EU, and I enjoy seeing other parts of our fantastic continent.

The airline I fly with, not British, only has delays because problems with airport in Far East. Never at home Base. BA is a nightmare. They cost me a delayed connection at HR. The other airline booked us with Qatar the following morning, which BA cancelled. Qatar could not get in touch with BA for two hours so we missed their flight And had to wait until 2200 the same day to continue our flight to Aussie. Contact BA and complain: impossible. Compensation? I wish!

Airlines have an out if the flight was delayed due to weather conditions. The question I would like an answer to is how far back on a aircrafts itinerary does bad weather count for delays on subsequent flights?

On 14th March we were due to return from Madeira to Edinburgh on EasyJet 9968 The flight was due to leave at at 12.45. On arrival at Funchal airport we were told the flight was delayed by 40 minutes. That did not seem a big issue. Updates indicated information at 14.00 then 15.00 then 16.00. Suddenly the flight was called and left 16.32. On board we were informed the incoming flight from Edinburgh at been unable to land at Funchal and had diverted to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo. Funchal is a bit tricky and we understand the landing attempt had to be aborted. The Inflight data only shows the incoming flight circling over Funchal.. We are advised on the flight home that the crew may need to be changed due to the hours they had been working and we might need to land at Bristol to change the crew. We landed at Bristol at 20.15 and were on the ground for an hour for refuelling and change of crew and cabin staff. The replacement crew had, we understand, been flown down from Edinburgh earlier to relieve the crew from Funchal. Fair enough this was important to meet safety standards but lengthened our delay. Then it gets more complicated because the flight from Bristol to Edinburgh to complete our return journey has a different flight number U29968. So the flight data comprises a return journey EZY9968/ U29968. The second leg of the journey left Bristol around 21.15 and landed at Edinburgh at 21.55. This being 9 hours and 10 minutes from the scheduled flight departure time for a flight that takes around 4 hours.

The final word I have had from EasyJet is that they would not compensate because the flight had been delayed by bad weather overnight. Somewhere on the night of 13th/14th they claim the chain of flights we were at the end of, had been delayed due to an unspecified incident of bad weather.

You could well have point Coolboy the way this country is going with school holiday rip off prices, parking prices at airports, travel insurance every business is looking how it can fleece its customers and make money out of them customer service comes a lowly second to rip offs.

Although airlines are sometimes culpable regarding delays, many times the delays are due to factors outside their control. We fly every month to Spain on Monarch. We are often delayed in summer, but the delays are nearly ALWAYS due to ATC delays or airport handling delays in the airport (usually Manchester in our case) and one can sense the frustration in the crew because they have to get to the destination and back in time to go out again, so it is bad for them as well. We also have been delayed recently approaching Malaga because, frankly the airport is incapable of handling the number of flights and we have been stacked for an hour waiting to land. Again, nit the fault of the airline. We value Monarch highly as an airline. They are courteous, efficient and helpful – but they are in competition like everyone else, so I would not want them having to pay petty fines for delays over which they have little or no control.

John H Atkinson says:
29 July 2017

Making automatic compensation mandatory by law raises another problem; what will it cost the airlines and will they have to raise fares to pay for it? In the final analysis, might it be better to suffer a few delays in the interests of keeping fares down rather than eating into airlines’ revenue to an extent that has not been fully calculated yet? If airlines profits are severely eroded, why would they continue in business?

I worked for one of the airlines for 30 years and know what sort of stunts people pull to get something for nothing, regrettably we have become a nation of money grabbers in a compensation driven world.

And “Which?” seems happy to be part of that problem.