/ Travel & Leisure

Delays and cancellations – isn’t it time for auto-comp?


When you’re entitled to compensation for a delay or cancellation, should you be credited with that compensation automatically? Huw Merriman MP joins us on Which? Conversation to explain why auto-comp should be necessary for rail and air passengers…

Advances in technology are simplifying so much of our daily routine and making us more productive. However, the process of understanding and claiming refunds for delays and cancellations across our transport system remains complex and cumbersome.

Unsurprisingly, many passengers don’t claim what’s owed to them and this just adds to the growing dissatisfaction levels reported by passengers on our trains, planes and other modes of transport. As we found with Ryanair, the rules are not always explained correctly, or explained at all, to passengers.

Delays and cancellations

As a Member of the Transport Select Committee since 2015 and a veteran in the daily commute from East Sussex, I’ve consistently called for a radical change from the industry in their approach to compensating passengers.

Today, in Parliament, I’ve taken this one step further by proposing that legislation is introduced to provide automatic travel compensation.

This Bill would ensure that passengers on trains, flights and other domestic transport systems, have their bank accounts automatically credited with the compensation owed to them without first having to work out what their rights are or try and apply for it.

Auto-compensation for rail

Last year, nearly 67 million rail journeys were either cancelled or were significantly late across our nation’s railways. These delays can lead to lost output, financial hardship and stress.

Rail passengers expect adequate compensation for delays and cancellations. To move to a system of automatic compensation would also incentivise the train operators and Network Rail to do more to prevent these issues in the first place. This would also, in turn, increase our nation’s productivity.

Whilst a number of steps have been taken in the last year, including the strengthening of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the introduction of Delay Repay 15 for Southern and new franchises, only a third of rail passengers who are owed compensation make a claim.

Network Rail currently makes payments to train operators for all delays which it has caused to track and infrastructure. However, if only a third of the passengers who experience the actual delay claim for it, the remainder must be retained by the train operators.

My Bill would require the train operators to ring-fence this excess. It could be used only to advance technology which would allow every passenger to touch on, and off, their train. Having pre-registered account details, the passenger would automatically receive compensation in their bank account on the day they were inconvenienced.

Every passenger is entitled to compensation. If the technology exists then it must be applied to all. When compensation isn’t going to the passenger, the taxpayer-funded compensation coming from Network Rail should be used by all train operators to get us to a place where compensation is automatically delivered to every passenger that’s entitled to it.

Airline compensation

The situation is arguably worse with airlines, as the recent debacle at Ryanair demonstrated. With 2,100 flights being cancelled, 315,000 passengers of Ryanair were left out of pocket. However, the company’s website failed to mention the word ‘compensation’, mentioning only that it would comply with ‘EU Regulation 261/2004’.

Unless a passenger is an expert in EU regulations, they wouldn’t realise that this ruleset provides compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation, delays and downgrading when flying.

It took the Civil Aviation Authority to threaten enforcement proceedings before Ryanair informed its customers of their compensation rights. All of this can be avoided.

Putting the onus on the airline to calculate compensation, and credit it automatically, must be possible. For security reasons, every airline must know which flight a passenger is booked on and they know whether it has been delayed or cancelled. They also know a passenger’s account details (or can find it via the flight booking agency).

Next steps

There’s now a compelling reason for Parliament and the government to ensure that passengers are compensated. To do so should incentivise those paying to do more to reduce the overall number of delays.

It’s time for those responsible for the passenger to give something back to the passenger. My Bill has the backing of over 50 MPs from every political party in the UK and passed this afternoon. The Bill will have its second reading on Friday 16 March 2018.

This is one such change will hopefully see the consumer benefit from us working together to get the industry to change its approach.

This is a guest contribution from Huw Merriman MP. All views expressed here are Huw’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

Which? has been calling for improvements to be made to the compensation system for both rail passengers and airline passengers. Automatic compensation would make sure that passengers get the compensation they’re entitled to and encourage both industries to improve their services.

Do you agree that automatic compensation should be awarded to rail and airline passengers?

Toby says:
3 January 2019

Booked a Easyjet flight from Gatwick at 7.20 on 20 December 2018, we received an SMS from Easyjet informing us our flight was cancelled whilst travelling by taxi to Gatwick at 3.00 am.
we had to find an alternative flight the same day as the next available Easyjet flight was not until 23 December 2018 and was probabaly already full. We had prebooked and paid for accommodation, ski hire etc. and did not want to lose 3 days waiting for a possible next flight.
We managed to book a SAS flight at 10.30am from Heathrow with 2 transits, and had our taxi divert to Heathrow.
Arrived at our destination at 8.30 pm after a 2 hour taxi journey from the airport, exhausted but glad we made it there on the same day.
We are trying to claim expenses for an alternative flight and taxi from airport to our destination.

Jill perrin says:
11 February 2019

Royal Air Maroc cancelled my flight with no notice. I found out when i went to check in. They had moved me from manchester to heathrow. I am disabled and on much medication so i have to get a taxi at a cost of £250 to enable me to get to london but i have to sit in london for nearly 24 hours as the man can only go at this time. Other than that the next available flight is 23rd february. In 11 days. My cat is already taken to her cat hotel because no one had contacted me. Can i claim compensation??

Imran Attan says:
10 March 2019

My flight was cancelled back in November 2018, I only found out recently before flight originally scheduled for this month, but through my own accord but crucially more then 2 weeks in advance. I was not informed via the agency or the airline, would this negate my compensation claim?

The airline would surely argue that although they failed to inform me ( within two weeks in advance of scheduled flight to claim compensation) I was aware as I simply found out myself more than two weeks in advance.

EU Regulation 261/2004 provides that passengers are entitled to compensation when their flight is cancelled unless they are informed at least two weeks in advance.

‘The airline has the obligation to prove if and when you were personally informed that the flight was cancelled’

The burden of proof that such information was provided to the passenger lies on the operating carrier – EU ruling, in the case of Krijgsman v Slm attached.

Any thoughts?

Peter Eley says:
24 April 2019

I have had four disagreements with BA over the past 16 months. The first was a flight cancellation due to inadequate de-icing equipment – BA refused proper compensation on the grounds that it was a weather incident. Subsequently a 3 month delay due to computer failure have a new flight and breakfast en-rout in Heathrow. BA took months to pay costs in the first event, limited to taxi and overnight costs – nothing for lost costs at destination. In the second – no compensation. The other 2 events were not delay related, but nevertheless costly encounters with BA customer services. I have been brushed off by customer relations many times and have recently tried three times to contact the CEO – so far no response.

Dr K Flynn says:
6 June 2019

I booked a ticket through the BA websiite to fly on a BA flight LHR-FRA & connect onto JP0115 to Pristina on 5 Mar 2019. When I got to FRA & the gate for my connection, I was denied boarding and was told this was because BA had not passed on my details to appear on the passenger list. I then spent 90 mins hanging on the phone at a Lufthansa helpdesk with BA customer services which eventually rerouted me on Austrian Airlines via Vienna to Pristina. I arrived several hours late at my destination. BA is denying my request for compensation, which I am disputing, because I cannot PROVE it was BA’s fault that I was denied boarding.

Anne says:
30 August 2019

Our eastJet flight was cancelled. Passengers were taken to the customer service desk which then closed. Special assistance passengers were abandoned. There were no flights available for over 48 hours on my route so I was told to book with an alternative airline. Fortunately I asked for an email from easyJet to confirm this. I then spent the last 3 weeks being denied expenses for this flight at £444.88 for two of us. Spent days on phone for an hour or more at a time with no success. I emailed the CEO and finally had a call today to confirm I will receive expenses within 14 days. Terrible treatment

1 September 2019

Until the law holds the Directors personal liable when they refuse to pay nothing will change. If I had my way if the airline refused or dragged their heels in refusing to pay or delay compensation more than 2 or 3 for separate flight issues then cancel or take away their licence to fly on their most profitable route and I guarantee no more issues will ever occur again in regard to paying compensation on time.

Is that ever going to happen NO, why the powers and bodies who oversee are not fit for purpose and probably have invested interest in being lax.

heidi morse says:
3 September 2019

Easyjet cancelled flight to Faro at very last minute, after waiting over six hours at Bristol Airport. They still insisted on us checking in on time. Offered a £3 voucher p.p. for refreshments by Easyjet but a coffee was £3.30! Very little communication available. Insufficient staff. Web site was best – however it crashed when trying to book Hotel nearby. Poor Wi-Fi signal at Airport. Next available flight three days later so returned home by Taxi. Easyjet have promised to pay reasonable expenses only (via web site); nothing for delay as they say the crew were out of hours following French ATC and it was ‘exceptional circumstances’. We will check this out as our flight was not due to go over French airspace. We know that several flights were cancelled that day unfortunately. We prefer to drive as this is the second low cost airline cancellation we have had in September 2019. Luckily it appears that our travel insurance will pay compensation for delayed departure and lost car hire deposit but we feel that Easyjet should take more responsibility as they chose to cancel the flight. They were quick to send out a customer survey following our flight cancellation!

Patrick Smyth says:
4 November 2019

Raised a complaint and request for compensation following BA’s last IT catastrophe. That was back in August. Since them I have sent email and letter to them. To date apart from the automated email replies I have heard nothing from them. A total disrespect of passengers. Automatic compensation would save customers time and effort

John W says:
16 January 2020

EasyJet cancelled my flight to Berlin at checkin. Complete chaos at customer support desk, unable to offer a replacement flight for another 3 days. Advice ‘go home and sort it out on website’.
Applied on website for refund & compensation (3 different places required for this). Booked an alternative flight next day.
EC261 compensation arrived, but no refund. Wrote recorded delivery claiming refund and extra costs of replacement flights. No reply. Finally went for small claims. Easyjet contesting claim, saying they should only pay a refund less the EC261 amount.
Big improvement needed in the way that companies like this deal with customers.