/ 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?

Mike says:
5 December 2017

When refunding fares or claiming on insurance the whole of the fare package including airport taxes should be made.

cliff says:
5 December 2017

As Airlines have a list of passengers on board automatic compensation should be straight forward for Airlines, though I think refunds should be made to the method of payment used by the passenger as I suspect many people like myself would book using a Credit Card.

Automatic compensation for Trains is more difficult as the Train Operators cannot automatically know who was on board and their journey details. I think a solution might be that if for any reason a Train Operator becomes liable for compensation the Train Operator should have to place on their web site a compensation claim form and submitted forms should have to be dealt with and compensation paid within 28 days of submission.

We recently had a claim that the Train Company accepted but took nearly 3 months to pay.

Tim Davies says:
5 December 2017

Long overdue Thomson refused me twice. Only received compensation following engaging a solicitor

Pat Moylan says:
5 December 2017

Hi There
Yes my son-in -law had to jump through hoops with a claim for 6 of us with Easyjet took about 7 months to settle.

Here in London, we use Oyster a lot – pay as you go. And there are many alternative forms of transport. These are good things.
Thameslink has been very unreliable in the past, but still cancels trains without notice. When the train is cancelled, we have to decide whether to wait for the next one, or go in by car or car/tube. Automatic compensation sounds lovely, and should work well for someone who bought a ticket in advance for a specific train that was cancelled. But in London, it must be hard to administer without being exploited.
Are we entitled to compensation for a service we did not (could not) use? Should we be, if we had an alternative? How would the carrier know?
When I made a formal complaint for a particular day when multiple services were cancelled, I did not even get an acknowledgement text/email.
Should we be entitled to compensation if we suffer a delay? How would the operator know we had been standing on the platform for an hour, instead of 5 minutes? Maybe, the service we should be compensated for wasn’t his.
I will go see if I can find what obligation the bill places on carriers, to see if anyone has answers to these questions.
Maybe carriers could pay an automatic fine for each cancellation or delay, with the fines being held is some sort of escrow. That money could fund reduced prices the next month or year? It would be fair, after a fashion, and easier to administer…

I traveled a lot over the last year between Aberdeen & Derby and the train leaving aberdeen was canciled many times each time i clamed compensation Virgin did there best to delay or not pay. The cansulations were all down to poor engin maintenance.

Yes I have claimed compensation. Yes automatic compensation would have been much easier

Norman Arnell says:
5 December 2017

If you think achieving compensation for delayed flights is made difficult, try getting compensation for being downgraded from Club to Economy Plus on an overbooked flight from Cape Town to London, despite a previously confirmed booking and booking-in some three hours before departure time. It took over eight months to get even a modicum of compensation, not remotely near the true difference in cost. Each department of BA contacted, including Customer Services, claimed it was not their responsibility and I was told internal contact with the part of the organisation able to agree a refund was by e-mail only. Even the Chairman, and his staff, failed to even acknowledge receipt of my letter of complaint.


There was a time when BA wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment to make it right for you, that they were COMMITTED to customer service. But this seems to have fallen by the wayside in their drive to reduce costs and quality? 🙁 Even when their CEO states publicly that they are committed to “making things right” with their passengers – his words appear to be nothing more than an empty insincere sound bite that might look good in the media? Whereas the reality is rather different….

andrew says:
5 December 2017

Good luck, can’t happen soon enough. Thompson had us sat on the Tarmac for 9 hours at Manchester and 3 years on, I’ve only managed to get one reply (a denial of liability). The whole thing should be automatic with a presumption in favour of delay compensation unless the operator can persuade an independent adjudicator that they are covered by a strict list of exemptions. Failure to settle within 60 days should bring increased levels of compensation. Just like they do with parking fines!

Damian Bell says:
5 December 2017

On 13th July 2017, I was on a northbound Virgin East Coast service which was delayed by slightly more than one hour. The guard announced that a full refund of the fare could be claimed under the delay repay scheme. When I alighted from the train I obtained the relevant information from a Virgin Trains information desk. I applied for my refund and received a cheque within two weeks. There was no attempt to avoid responsibility.

Two days earlier, I was booked to travel on a London Midland service southbound from Milton Keynes. It was cancelled due to “an incident involving emergency services” which had caused the line to be closed in both directions for two hours. I claimed a refund for this. At Milton Keynes station, there was no obvious information available about who ran each cancelled service. I had to consult timetables in order to ascertain that the service at the time stated on my ticket would have been run by London Midland. I also had to describe the nature of the incident when applying for a refund on the operator’s website. It was less straightforward than my claim from Virgin East Coast but I still received my refund as a cheque.

In both cases, I was satisfied to receive a cheque. This is preferable to having to give bank details, which is a security concern. My only suggestion is that a ticket for a specified service should have the operator’s name printed on it.

Of course we should be compensated. We pay enough for everything and if Companies can’t be sufficiently organised or care enough to deliver what they have offered, they should be penalised. We are relying on them for a service and they should certainly be made to pay if they fall short of their commitments.

Next Stop..Over crowding particularly on Cross country. They never seem to have more than 4 coaches . When you include the two engine compartments at the ends, you have just over two and half coaches availabe for sitting pasengers

4 coaches! That’s luxury in rural Herefordshire!! We often get only 2 coaches on the train from Brum to Hereford – on an hourly service. So when a train is cancelled (as often happens, owing to antiquated signalling that frequently breaks), the next train is usually dangerously overcrowded. Add to this, London Midland still runs type 150 DMUs that are over 30 years old and well past their use-by date. We look forward to West Midlands Trains taking over on 10th December – and also for them to keep their promise of more coaches, scrapping the type 150’s and more bike spaces on their trains. Their offer of Wi-Fi from 2019 is icing on the cake – lets get the basics right first!

This would be much better on all counts. The only time I’ve ‘claimed’ compensation was in 2000, when I was ‘bumped’ from a bi-weekly flight from Tbilisi to Heathrow. I say ‘claimed’ because compensation for being delayed 3 days was offered to all those who were prepared to let others board the over-subscribed flight. The deal was to be put up in the Sheraton for 3 nights (at that time, the only properly constructed 20th century building in Georgia!) and either £250 cash or £400 in vouchers for future travel with BA. I chose the former because I don’t fly that often – but under rules prevailing at the time (possibly Georgian rules) I had to be paid in local currency. The Georgian Lei is worthless outside the country and not as well accepted locally as ‘hard’ currency, so I had to spend a morning of my extended holiday trying to find a bank to change this into US dollars, Sterling and/or Euros. Fortunately I succeeded, but I got a bad rate of exchange and, on examining the US notes back at the hotel, some were obvious forgeries. Fortunately again I was able to palm them off for a purchase. However, if I’d been compensated directly to my bank account in Sterling I wouldn’t have had any of this hassle.

My wife and I were delayed by Emirates,stuck in Dubai airport for over 7 hours and 1st day of holiday ruined as we didn’t arrive till late evening without luggage for 2 days.We tried to claim but were told it was outwith their control and wouldn’t compensate us.We did get £38 each for having to buy clothes while we had no luggage that they say is standard for economy passengers.

Statutory compensation is to be welcomed but as usual the devil is in the detail, my local train company South West Railways have announced automatic compensation however each claim is subject to a £10 adminstration fee. Such practices should be outlawed.

Julie Wren says:
6 December 2017

Yes, compensation should be automatic.

Claire Pattison Valente says:
7 December 2017

My mother and son were awarded compensation in October 2016 after a delayed flight with TAP airlines to Brazil. The delay was between London and Lisbon meaning they missed the flight to Brazil, only arriving 24 hours after planned, which complicated further travel arrangements enormously. Several months after the intial complaint, TAP finally offered travel vouchers or a bank transfer, as my mother was planning to return to Brazil the following year the vouchers seemed the best option. My mother, a pensioner in her mid eighties, then traveled to Heathrow airport to exchange the vouchers for flights and was told that TAP do not offer vouchers for flights. Following a telephone call to TAP’s helpline, my mother was assured that the vouchers were valid and that she should return to Heathrow to book her flights with them. Once again at Heathrow she was told by TAP staff that the vouchers could not be exchanged for flights. My son then requested the compensation be paid via bank transfer and was told an email would be sent to him, no such email ever arrived. We have raised the matter on TAP’s facebook page and been told that customer services was waiting for us to provide the bank details but the bank details were sent to them months ago in and email to which TAP did not respond, nor have they responded to any subsequent emails we have sent to them, other than the automated email to say that our emails have been received. It seems to me that the airline make the process as difficult as possible in the hope that customers will simply give up on any compensation claim, automatic compensation would be a way around this.

Whilst I agree that the rail companies behaviour is absolutely disgraceful, and the audacity they have to just cancel trains at the drop of a hat and cause untold disruption to hundreds of people without any seeming remorse. And the fees they charge for such a poor and dangerous service is criminal and I do not understand how they continue to get away with it and the executive board earning more money than they could ever spend, is anyone ever going to be able to make them perform better. They are just too arrogant and powerful an organisation, just like the banking sector, with too much money to pay off to many ‘contacts’. The whole country is awash with these sociopaths abusing their powerful positions with no thought for us living in the real world. They are running the nation from schools, universities, building companies, banks, double glazing companies, etc the list goes on and the regulating bodies have seemingly little ability or desire to aid us in our cause.

A resounding YES to automatic compensation for airline delays and cancellations. The airlines have been relying on smokescreens and fobbing off for far too long.

And the next step after that must be to extend automatic compensation to the ferry companies who are currently just as bad as the airlines in trying to avoid their obligations.

I’ve had a few very onerous and time consuming compensation claims with train companies recently. I’m not sure if I’ve just been unlucky and I wondered if anyone else has found it difficult or time consuming to claim their money back for a delay? I was hoping things were going to be so much easier by now.