/ 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.


Flying all the time is not very good for the planet Pilots who are always flying so low the noise from planes is not very good when school children are learning and for people who hear and see planes that fly over their homes with noise from jet engines and to sleep at night with planes flying over peoples homes is really annoying

no says:
29 July 2017

Anything that deters people from flying is a good thing for the environment

Mary McCabe says:
29 July 2017

One thing which could be clamped down on is over-booking. When KLM bumped me off the place on my return flight from Amsterdam to Glasgow (which I had booked weeks before and had attempted to check in within the 30 hours which were allowed for free online check-in) they told me that nowadays “all the airlines overbook. It’s because they don’t want a seat to go empty”. I don’t understand why this is allowed at all. If you book a place on a specific flight that place now belongs to you, not the airline. If you don’t turn up the airline gets to keep the money you paid for your place. So at the point you book a place on a flight and the airline sells it on to somebody else it is selling something which no longer belongs to them just to get the money twice over. Which is theft. A theatre isn’t allowed to sell on a seat someone has already bought and paid for – why is an airline? Once you have a standby ticket you can be bumped off all the later flights as you go to the end of the queue. As happened to me.

Mike Hutchinson says:

Whereas delays as a result of negligence should receive compensation there is little case for those reulting from “acts of God”. The pampered public, including hardworking people who NEED a holiday, elect to fly away. Most accept the possibility of a delay. Those who do not must have absolutely no concept of operational expedients such as those caused by mechanical faults, accidents, weather, political obstructions, crew sickness et al. They must accept the possibility of unforeseen and unavoidable delays if they choose to travel by air, or indeed at all. Operators have their problems too and such is the escalated demand for air travel by the masses, things are inevitably going to go wrong with increasing regularity. If they don’t like it they should stay at home and boost our own tourist economy.

Great point, being bumped off a flight , results in an actual delay to your co firmed flight plans.

Not on should the passenger ‘bumped’, get the normal EU flight delay compensation,butshould also get full compensation for consequential costs and liabilities incurred as a result of this ‘ bumping’

Mat says:
30 July 2017

So you were delayed 6 hours and your faces were red with frustration – you poor little things – try going on an anger management course and get some perspective in your life – if you don’t want delays when flying at the height of summer on a charter airline then hire your own jet

Frank says:
30 July 2017

Hi Mat,

You do not travel much by air do you, also I take it you have a very well paid job if you only fly by private charter as the typical cost to charter a small plane from Luton to Paris would be in the region of £5,000.

Stop being a care bear and remember that this kind of money is not peanuts to over 95% of the average population.

If airlines gave up over booking flights they may well fly with some empty seats but what the heck they have been paid for these seat so it no lost to them in fact the empty seat would mean they are carrying less eight so they would burn less fuel making the flight cheaper for them to operate.

[Sorry, your comment has been removed to align with our Community Guidelines. Please ensure comments are on-topic. Thanks, mods]

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Why not just delete the offensive post?

It’s a fine balancing act. Dean is in a position of power and can do that, but although Mat reveals himself to be one of the gene pool’s less welcome bits of flotsam Dean will be very aware that simply removing the post doesn’t deal with the basic issue. Being a Mod isn’t an enviable position.

I’ve seen worse posts than Mat’s and the thumbs down illustrates the disagreement.

On a general note, some can make a mountain out of a molehill on principle, whether they are suffering much or not. I am a little averse to automatic compensation. In principle I think compensation should reflect actual financial loss and consideration of lost time, mitigated by the degree to which the offender is to blame. Whether it is banking errors, car problems, loss of supply of a utility. We all fund the compensation by paying increased prices. However, administering such things fairly would be an administrative nightmare particularly with disputed claims. So I guess an agreed blanket figure is the only practical solution for “mass” payouts.

Jean says:
29 July 2017

It’s a disgrace that the airlines still get away with delaying flights without the need to compensate passengers and deal with it promptly. I was delayed a few years ago by Easy Jet and I haven’t claimed because it was a relatively small amount and I knew they would claim that it was beyond their control.

My wife and I travelled to Madeira from Gatwick airport (UK) but , because of increasingly adverse weather conditions we were not allowed to land. We had to return to Gatwick and remained on the plane for a total of 10 hours. THe toilet no longer functioned, there was insufficient water to make hot drinks and the sandwiches provided on the way back, instead of a meal, were stale and inedible. We were given overnight hotel accommodation, and a meal, and the offer of a an alternative flight but no compensation. I am disabled and found the whole experience traumatic. I will never use Easy Jet again

unfortunately, Funchal airport is one of the most difficult to land at…and only the most experienced of pilots can fly there…so severe adverse weather conditions, which are very rare at that point in the Atlantic, would definately prove troublesome for landing…

However, what i do find strange, is that you had to return to Gatwick, when there are a lot of nearer airports, especially in the Canaries, or even back to Lisbon or another Portuguese airport …and maybe that could be looked at by airlines in the future…rather than being ideal, at least you could understand the situation better…

Mat says:
30 July 2017

Why not? It wasn’t Eatjet’s fault

An aborted flight can be frustrating, but I hope we’d all sooner be safe than sorry.

I remember once only getting from Atlanta to Eglin Airforce Base on the 2nd attempt; our first flight was aborted midway there, due to bad weather ahead and a radar failure on the aircraft. So we returned to Atlanta and then all piled onto the next scheduled flight. (A higher capacity aircraft was used, to accommodate two normal flights worth of passengers.)

David says:
29 July 2017

nsI found Easy Jet appalling when I suffered a long delay. Telephoned and asked for the compensation due but was made to complete a form. Tried to reclaim cost of a prepaid and non refundable rail ticket which could not be used as all trains had gone before arrival at Gatwick but refused. Also requested reimbursement for cost of a meal at Belfast as we were only given a card which was worth only slightly more than cost of a cup of coffee. Refused as post flight expense. Asked how food consumed at departure airport hours before departure could be considered post flight expense but no answer provided. Eventually asked if I wanted compensation due paid in Euros or Sterling. Requested Sterling payment but received a Euro cheque and then had to pay bank charge to process. Easy Jets handling of whole episode showed utter contempt for customers and a fantastic example of how not to treat customers. Haven’t used them since.

I would just like to throw into the conversation the proposition that we should all be trying to cut down on flying ANYwhere. Some of us obviously have to fly either to keep in touch with family or for work-related reasons. But I would like to challenge the assumption that we should be flying all over the world for recreational reasons. Air fuel emissions are one of the biggest polluters of the environment, and what is more, air fuel is still exempt from tax. Can anyone tell me why that should be?

I don’t think many will agree with you, Anna, but I do. Of course it’s not just flying for recreational purposes that contributes to the problem.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Thanks Duncan. What a wonderful collection of reasons for doing nothing to improve the environment.

The document is not an official government statement or policy but a Parliamentary briefing undertaken by a researcher in the House of Commons Library. These objective non-partisan briefings are highly reliable and authoritative documents and are one of the cornerstones of the democratic Parliamentary process that governments ignore or avoid at their peril. It’s one of the things that keeps the civil service on the straight and narrow because any fudge or flannel would be exposed.

Keeping down the cost of aviation spirit to all airlines is done to maintain the UK’s pre-eminence as an international staging post for air travel. Whether that is a good thing and the ‘lost’ tax revenue is made up in other ways [obviously not in the duty free shops] is debatable. Personally it would not bother me if Schiphol and Paris C-d-G took over the hub role entirely. It might be more inconvenient for UK passengers and incoming tourists but it would avoid the never-ending battles over airport capacity, new runways, noisy aircraft and pollution, and let millions of residents get a better night’s sleep.

Mat says:
30 July 2017

It is exempt because countries can’t agree – which is quite unusual when it comes to tax – Britain has some of the highest tax rates for flying in the world – we should not be encouraging governments to tax more.

Thanks for that post, Dean. There are many ways that we can all reduce our impact on the environment. Back in the 90s my industrial sponsor expected me and a couple of others to fly to the US for research meetings but I suggested we could achieve the same by periodic video conferencing and weekly phone calls.

Taking fewer but longer overseas holidays could be of considerable environmental benefit.

The biggest cause of unnecessary travel is presenteeism in office culture, whereby workers are judged not on their output but on their input, i.e. how much time they spend in the office. Many jobs can be carried out effectively from home, whereby workers are judged on their output. The unnecessary commuting carried out by millions of office workers dwarfs the amount of unnecessary air travel.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Brian Foster says:
30 July 2017

Being delayed after being bumped off a flight that was overbooked should attract automatic compensation. However flight delays due to acts of God, the weather and/or safety i.e. Mechanical faults should not attract any compensation. Automatic compensation for every delay will start a downhill spiral of Airlines taking unnecessary risks to avoid financial penalties. To the travelling public that means more plane crashes. Is that seriously what you want?????? I’d rather be delayed and arrive alive than take £250 compensation!! Any delay due to Airline staff making sure the plane and everything in it is in working order I’ll live with. So should everyone else!

Brian – You are absolutely right regarding acts of god. Chuck in civil unrest, riots and external strikes, maybe even bird strikes. However, If an aircraft has a mechanical fault, then I think compensation should be owed for delays. It is up to the airline to ensure that every component is working properly…………… all the time, otherwise there would be pressure for airlines to ‘skip’ essential safety and trust their luck. Corporate financial greed has to be kept in check. ( Otherwise we are all doomed Mr Manwaring!!)

Andy says:
30 July 2017

Another area that has not been looked at is baggage delay. We recently had an 8 day holiday. Our baggage was delayed on the way out it took 4 days to get to us. on the way back it was also delayed and took two days to get to us. A holiday is spoilt when you have a delay but equally spoilt when your baggage does as well. There should be equal compensation for lost bag as its an integral part of the whole contract between you and the airline.

In May 2017 I was on a flight from Leeds to Alicante with Jet2 Holidays. The take off from Leeds was aborted due to a fault indication on the plane.All the passengers were given a five pound voucher to spend in the airport while we waited for a replacement flight, you don’t get much for five pounds in an airport. Our flight eventually took off five hours late.
On my return from holiday I sent a letter to Jet2 claiming compensation of four hundred Euros.Two weeks later Jet2 sent me a cheque for the correct amount.I have read about other airlines refusing to pay compensation, obviously they don’t care about customer loyalty.Overall I was satisfied with the way that Jet2 dealt with my claim ,so within a few days of receiving the cheque from them I booked another holiday with Jet2 Holidays. This is a lesson for other airlines and holiday companies, if you treat your customers fairly you will get repeat business.If you treat your customers with contempt they will go elsewhere.

I would prefer to be delayed as many delays are due to mechanical issues. You cannot compromise on safety and it is costly and frustrating for the airline. I want to fly on an aeroplane that is fit to fly. The delay can be irritating but it not the end of the world. There is the question that if airlines are paying out unnecessary compensation and with the pressure for ever cheaper flights they may start saving in areas such as maintenance.

This is a very unfair statistic, exactly what control does Easy Jet have over French air traffic controllers striking ?, what can it do about bad weather?, what can it do about overcrowded Spanish airports?, ect, ect, blame where blame is due

Kari says:
30 July 2017

We suffer flight delays plus lethal toxic cabin air. Plane emissions are very dangerous to passengers and cabin crew and pilots have died because of toxic air. Everyone is sick when they fly from Europe to Australia I was told. I was ill for two weeks. We are paying for travel only, not to be poisoned by irresponsible Airlines who get away with poisoning passengers. Typical Malignant Narcissist Character Disturbed attitude. They do not give a damn about anyone.

Karl says, ‘Everyone is sick when they fly from Europe to Australia’ , sorry but that is absolute rubbish!

Airline cabin air is some of the cleanest of enclosed spaces; cleaner than an office and much cleaner than the average lift. The air is a mixture of fresh and recirculated . Independent studies have shown the filters to remove 95% of the airborne microbes and there’s a complete change of air every three minutes.

HEPA filters can remove bacteria but I doubt that they will remove virus particles – which are much smaller.

There are, apparently, several different system in place, including catalytic and absorption systems. Not sure how any fare with viruses.

I’m referring to simple filtration. There are various options to deal with viruses, as you say. Putting people in a confined space makes it easy to transfer viral infections such as colds, flu and norovirus.

Steve says:
30 July 2017

I suffered a 3 hour plus delay from Glasgow to Bristol, I had to jump through a lot of hoops before I was able to claim compensation with little or no help from easyjet other than a free cup of coffee. What is frustrating is that I travelled this return route weekly for a year and must have suffered a 2 hour plus delay over 6 times with no chance to compensation.

Simon says:
31 July 2017

Hi Steve. I have to say, that flying within the UK is highly irresponsible and unnecessary, let alone doing it weekly . Save flying for rare occasions, and where you’d otherwise spend days, many extra legs and much more money. Trains are lovely, don’t usually have such delays, have far more points of departure ( ie: almost always take you to and from near the points you actually want), and don’t require all the security and waiting at the airport. Better still, organise to work nearer home if that was the reason for travelling.

Walter Turnbull says:
30 July 2017

Your views are not the same as my own on compensation. Surely airlines can’t be held responsible for flight delays caused by bad weather,strikes by 3rd party,terrorists,natural disasters,hijacking etc, the list goers on. The tighter the legislation becomes on compensation the higher the fares will be.
I have no connection with any airline and agree some have poor punctuality records, so I vote with my Visa card and don’t use them.
Sorry if my views offend the majority of your posts, but being in the minority is not necessarily wrong.

Walter, the existing compensation of €250/€400/€600 doesn’t apply to bad weather, terrorism, ATC strikes, natural disasters, hijacking etc, only where the delay is within the airline’s control. All that is being suggested is that the existing compensation should be automatic rather than passengers having to claim manually. Although nobody can explain how this could be paid automatically, given that airlines don’t have passengers’ bank account numbers.

My family were all delayed by 13 hours coming home from Cyprus 5 years ago. The rest of the family eventually got compensation but my husband and I haven’t as I can’t provide a copy of my ticket or booking confirmation. I booked our holiday by phone with teletext but they cannot trace the booking as I can’t remember which sub department of teletext I booked with. Surely the airline, Jet2.com should have my details on their records. If compensation was paid automatically I wouldn’t have this problem.

Howard Leech says:
30 July 2017

The last time my flight was delayed, they gave everyone a Voucher for a drink and something to eat. Strangely, the voucher didn’t meet the price and so if you wanted something , you also had to shell out more money

How would airlines know the bank account to which any compensation (usually denominated in EUR) should be paid? Not everyone is a simple consumer with only a GBP bank account and paying for their own flight with a UK debit card. Take the following examples of why the airline cannot simply refund to the original card used to pay for the flight:

1. The tickets were paid for with a credit card that earns points, airmiles or cashback etc. Any refund to the same card will cause a cancellation of those benefits, which could exceed the amount earnt for purchasing the flight.
2. Refunding to a credit card gives a cost saving for the airline in that it receives a refund of interchange fees; this cost saving causes the loss of benefits described above.
3. The party who paid for the flight might not be the inconvenienced passenger who is entitled to compensation. It is the passenger who is inconvenienced and therefore legally entitled to compensation, not the party who paid for the flight. Take the example of a business traveller who is significantly delayed on his return home on a Friday evening. Although his employer paid for the flight, it is the passenger who is entitled to the compensation.
4. Although the flight might be paid for in GBP, compensation is usually due in EUR. In many cases, the passenger will have a EUR-denominated bank account and will want to receive compensation in the original round EUR amount without conversion to another currency such as GBP.
5. The passenger might no longer be using the credit card used to pay for the flight, particularly for flights booked many months in advance. A refund to it would cause a credit balance on that credit card rather than giving the passenger money that can be spent anywhere, including with payees that do not accept cards.

The only practical way for this to work is for each passenger’s bank details for EUR compensation to be specified at the time of booking. For example, I would give my German bank account details, even though I pay for my flights with a British Airways branded GBP-denominated American Express card. How else could this work?

Paying customers should always come first! Without us there is no business. If a customer is put out compensation should be instant. Good customer service is what we all deserve no matter who we are!

What do you mean by “instant“? How would this work in practice? Should the airline hand out €250, €400 or €600 in cash for example? Remember that airlines do not hold the passenger’s bank account details to which to send payment.

Jonny says:
31 July 2017

It shouldn’t be a set amount that you can claim for delay. It should be relative to what you have paid for the flight. It’s not right that some people will claim back more than what their flight originally cost for a 3 hour delay. They were still provided the service, just late. Airlines work on very small profit margins and claiming more will only increase ticket prices for everybody

Jonny, the monetary equivalent of the inconvenience caused to the passenger, as well as consequential losses, is often far greater than the amount paid for the flight. That’s why the existing compensation is €250/€400/€600. For example, you might have missed the last train for which you had already purchased a ticket and have to pay for a much more expensive taxi instead.

Take another example. If your washing machine catches fire and destroys your kitchen, should the retailer’s or manufacturer’s liability be limited to the amount paid for the washing machine? No, of course not. The same principle applies to flight delays, whereby a monetary amount is attributed to the distress and inconvenience caused.

3 + plus hour delays are common place on our bi-annual return Flights to Manchester England from Orlando MCO airport flying Thomas Cook. We have had one that was knocking on the door of 4 hours. Personally we have yet to have a departure less than 2+ hours late.
However, to be fair, the usual stop-start time wasting, chaotic lack of organisation, shown by the gate personnel , once the show gets on the road, especially in regard to the inordinate amount of priority boarding wheelchair reliant passengers, with there entire family in in trail, plus parents with small kids, eats greatly into any chance of prompt boarding regime for the remainder of the passengers. Compare this to the usual, more prompt and efficient departure from Manchester airport flying Thomas Cook and one can see that a big shakeup at the Orlando end on the way back, which has become very stressful, is vital. Not the ideal conclusion to a Disney, once in a lifetime, happy holiday.