/ 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?


Good luck, and I’m glad to see you commute in. I’ve long felt that more MPs should do that. Alot more improvements to transport etc would have happened by now if they did.

In August this year our flight to Chicago with BA was cancelled with 3 days notice. I claimed compensation from BA under EU Regulation 261/2004 but they refused to pay up, arguing the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances”. I took my case to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) setting out detailed legal arguments which BA countered. After much to-ing and fro-ing, I’m pleased to say CEDR have now found in my favour and instructed BA to pay me 2400 Euros in compensation which they have now done. I can provide more detail if helpful

As the industrial action which precipitated this case has been going on since January 2017 there must be thousands of people who are in the same position as me but haven’t claimed compensation because they are under the mistaken impression that they are not entitled to it (promulgated in the media I might add).
So I am keen to spread the message out far and wide

Well done you for keeping on with it! I’ve been advised by BA to take my claim to CEDR too, and I’ve had feedback from other passengers who’ve received the same advice. One has even suggested that BA are “pushing” people towards CEDR, knowing that most won’t bother to stay the distance as you did. I wonder how accurate that might be?

As a matter of interest, how long did the CEDR process take, from when you initiated it, until they found in your favour? And how long afterwards before BA paid up?

Statutory compensation should be automatically paid. However, I am at a bit of a loss to know how this will reach everyone. Many will not give bank details when they travel, and maybe pay by cash or credit card. And how will they know whether you caught a particular train, for example, that suffered a delay? I bought an off-peak travelcard to go to London last week – I could have purchased it in advance and used it for any train that arrived on London after 10:00 a.m. I think these proposals might be good in principle, but need thinking through rather more carefully. BA made the point when they were criticised about compensation; they could not directly reach many passengers to refund because they did not have payment details.

Huw talks about passengers using technology to touch on and off their train, so I’d imagine that could be what he ultimately envisages. That would certainly allow for automatic compensation payments, so long as everything worked properly.

Last summer I travelled by train to Rome. I must admit that I was concerned what compensation I would receive (if any) and what flexibility would apply if, for example, the train from Paris was late arriving in Milan and I consequently missed my connection to Rome.

I appreciate that the article refers to domestic journeys but I wondered if there are similar arrangements in Europe (well at least whilst we are still members of the EU).

Some regular commuters might prefer the present heavily subsidised and cheap season tickets to a fares regime inflated by the need to pay compensation to every one regardless. To be fair the system will have to recalculate the delays between every pair of stations on the route to exclude those who left the train before the delay occurred. I anticipate complaints.

Flexible season tickets that are based on fewer than five return journeys a week are another mirage under development.

If you are delayed by union strikes or industrial action, you should claim from the unions, not the rail companies who are going to raise fares to compensate for all the compensation they will be coughing up.

So how will that work?

Richard says:
5 December 2017

Disruption by the Unions is not the Unions fault. It is the fault of Management causing the union to take disruptive action.

It’s a pity that “disruption”, “inconvenience” and other ways that severely inconvenience your fellow men (and women), whether workers or not, are seen as appropriate tools to try to get your own way.

If your work conditions and wages were made worse, you might want to refuse to work under them….it’s called strike. No-one can force you to work, it’s called slavery.

Frank says:
5 December 2017

Regarding Ryanair’s mass cancellations in September due to the pilot shortage, it’s worth being persistent. Our return flight to a regional airport in UK was cancelled at 2 days’ notice with the next available Ryanair flight 3 days later. Instead we booked a very expensive BA flight to a London airport and hired a car to get home on time from there. We were refunded our air fares within a week or so. We submitted a claim for EU261 compensation in the 3rd week of September and included PDFs of our bills – BA fares, car hire, petrol and so on. We were refunded the full claim plus €250 each just under 2 months later. Its not too difficult to find the correct links on Ryanair’s website but you do need a degree of determination.

I am in the process of claiming delay compensation from Thomsons (now TUI) where U are in the centre. They have obviously forgotten where the centre is as they have failed to reply after promising to do so within 56 days. I am now with CEDR (you may have trouble downloading any forms or filing the complaint online) I have been waiting a couple of weeks and no news so far. Anyway, if this arbitration service is a dead bucket operation then I will end up in the small claims system – at least it will probably be handled without needing my presence in Northampton. This arcane complaint system for an acknowledged flight delay could be simply settled but I suppose the system probably saves money for the airlines and employs quite a few folk. In a normal market complaints would settle much quicker – but in many cases, the passenger has little choice – for example, there are only really two package holiday operators in the UK. No one has to worry about Thomas Cook after the problems with gas-heater deaths so TUI can have a very low bar when it comes to complaint handling.

Hi @Roland Wilding, I wish you luck. My wife and I were delayed over 5 hours on a flight with Thomson (before they put U in the middle!), back in Sep 2015. I took it to the “National Enforcement Body” in the country of departure (Cyprus),who ruled in our favour. Thomson ignored them. I took it to CEDR, who ruled in our favour and gave Thomson 20 working days to pay. Thomson ignored them. When, after 52 working days had passed without us receiving anything, I started proceedings through CCMCC. Thomson paid up! (I also tried to get aggravated damages for the delay and the lies that Thomson had told us, but that was turned down in the County Court)

We had a five and half hour delay on a flight leaving from London to Phoenix. BA weren’t very good at providing vouchers in the air-side of the departure lounges unless you went a found their customer service desk. There was no mention of any compensation in the airport or on the flight. I did a Twitter direct message and they replied and said they would sort it out. We got 2/3rds of out total flight cost back a few weeks after we got home. No further contact was needed.

BUT. They knew the flight number. They knew it was delayed by 5.5 hours. They knew we had checked in and they had our luggage. So an email (they had that from the booking) to say they were paying out would have been easy enough.

I wonder how many of the other passengers claimed?

Luckily the car hire and hotel wasn’t affected at the other end although arriving at 2am wasn’t best for either.

On 2nd October my wife and I departed from Edinburgh for our holiday in Madeira, on EasyJet flight EZY6967. Shortly after take-off, the pilot announced that there were high winds in Funchal, but we would continue our journey, in the hope of the wind abating by the time we arrived.

When we arrived it was still too windy to land and we diverted to Porto Santo, which is a small island, very close to Madeira. The captain then came into the cabin and announced that the aircraft was being refuelled and would return to Edinburgh. At which point, approximately half the passengers on board asked to leave the aircraft, at Porto Santo and get the two and a half hour ferry, to Madeira. The captain then informed us that if we chose to do this, we would be on our own and no longer the airline’s responsibility. EasyJet initially were offering us a refund, or, another flight, which seemed to us, very unlikely to happen.

We decided to leave the aircraft, as we felt that the airline would not be able to give us another flight and we would subsequently lose our holiday. We have a, two week, fixed timeshare and would also waste our year’s maintenance fee.

Whilst still on the plane, we booked into a hotel for two nights. It transpired that there was plenty of accommodation in Porto Santo, as it was off-peak season there from the beginning of October. During this time the ferry to Madeira does not run on Tuesdays. Our total outlay was only 220 Euros.

Whilst at the ferry terminal, we saw at least four TUI coaches bringing people to catch the ferry, who, like us, had been diverted because of the weather conditions. Our reaction to this was: Why couldn’t EasyJet have done the same for us?

I was recently supposed to travel on a KLM connecting flight from Amsterdam to London Heathrow terminal 3 in October. I boarded the flight at around 9.30am and taxied for about 100 metres only to be told that there was a problem with one engine and that it would be fixed. To cut a long dtory short, the flight was cancelled and there was total chaoes at the Schipol Airport. We were just Bussed back to the terminal and aked to go upstairs and sort the re-booking.
There was no one there to escort us and it took till after 5pm for KLM to confirm me on another flight the next day. By the time that I got to the Landmark hotel to spend the night, it was past 7pm.
I have since put in for a compensation online and to date, I have not had any response whatsoever from KLM.
This is definitely taking the biscuit.

mark jackson says:
5 December 2017

a great step forward and hope it suceeds

David John Harrison says:
5 December 2017

I have not flown for the last several years and can only remember one late flight about 14 years ago, but it still made the connection. As to the trains, Chilton is usually early and my few on Virgin have been on time. I can not remember a late one during the last five years. If I can go from Birmingham to Edinburgh for less than £25 return, it would need to be very late before I asked for compensation!!

David Carslake says:
5 December 2017

I agree, but automatic compensation for delays doesn’t go far enough. Train companies should not be making money from passengers who have had to stand up. That includes passengers who’ve had to stand by their luggage in the vestibule area even when there are seats free, because the in-carriage luggage space is hopelessly inadequate. But whatever system of rewards and penalties you introduce to try and force the TOCs into providing a decent service, they’re going to game it. That’s because they exist to make money, not to serve passengers. Privatisation of these monopoly services was a stupid thing to do and should be reversed.

Verity says:
5 December 2017

Automatic compensation would have prevented BA “overlooking” a valid claim for a cancelled flight. We had to go to arbitration to get the money due.

Thompson Airlines gave me the runaround. Still took months using a solicitor despite having confirmation in writing from the airline on the day of the delay. This situation is a national disgrace. We need more protection from the law. Come on you MPs off your bums and do something to earn your pay instead of braying on about brexit.

John Baker says:
5 December 2017

Great step forward good luck Mr M. I am 7 months into my claim for a 4 hrs delay on Aer Lingus out of Dublin to New York,,,,now in the hands of a ‘specialist Solicitor’ who states it could take 12 months to resolve as it has gone to court and there is a massive backlog. Hard to see why such a backlog could form, either that are in excess of 3 hrs late or not! Perhaps the claims industry should get some form of palieamentary investigation?

I am all for passengers (aka customers) getting compensation when it is justified (and I did battle with Thomson for 2 years to get mine). However, there are occasions when, even though compensation may be due, according to the letter of the law, I would not claim it. My wife and I were delayed by over 5 hours returning to UK for Jamaica with Virgin Atlantic. The the out-bound flight had been hit by lightning shortly after take-off and returned to UK for checks and repairs. That was the aircraft that was due to take us home, so we were delayed. The only way Virgin could have avoided a delay would be to have another aircraft and crew in the Caribbean, just in case, which I think goes beyond reasonable. Also, when the delay was known, Virgin told us straight away, they arranged for us to keep our hotel room for a few hours at no cost and put us (and all the other passengers) in the VIP lounge at Montego Bay Airport with free drinks and food. Having been looked after like that, we didn’t even try to claim compensation.

Great idea, surely this should be written into law, I can see no reason why to wouldn’t be. As a customer who is still having to jump through hoops to get my money back after Ryanair paid it to our third party booking service, I can only show full support of this bill to stop others suffering the same farcical nonsense that I am. Thank you.

Yes, but it’s the bloated, greedy union bosses that should be paying out of their equally bloated pay packets. Fight back, Britain, against these thugs holding you hostage.

Have had a claim for air travel compensation with EasyJet outstanding since September 2016. They have agreed to an amount to pay and asked for my address (in order to send a cheque) which I have sent them twice earlier this year. I have been in contact with them several times since and still no compensation. Consequently I have since stopped using the airline and am now looking to lodge a complaint with the CAA. Automatic compensation would have saved everyone a lot of time and effort.

Petra Lander says:
5 December 2017

I was more than 5hrs delayed by RyanAir due to a maintenance issue. Before we even left they texted everyone to say that no compensation was due as it was out of their contract, which of course maintenance isn’t!
But even though I claimed Ryanair rejected the claim. I had to involve a solicitor before they paid up. This kind of behaviour really has to be stopped as the agro and hassle factor is huge!