/ 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?


How will auto compensating work ? Most travel companies will be reluctant to pay you will still have to spend time and money to get what should be paid automatically

Nigel says:
8 December 2017

As a daily commuter with Northern Rail I do find myself having to make a claim for a delay a few times a year. There is no doubt that at present Northern Rail wait until the latest they can before sending out the compensation (90 days?).

compensation which is due should be automatically paid. This not beyond realms of possibilities. the airlines and the any travel companies have all the travellers details. It should be their responsibility to pay and not wait for a claim.

I have made two successful claims for flight delays in the last couple of years. However, the airlines seem to make it as difficult as possible for us. My most recent claim (arising from a 24-hour delay in getting home) was initially rejected, but after five months of determined correspondence I finally received the compensation due to me. A ridiculous rigmarole!

wow! that’s great to hear you were successful. 24 hour delay sounds a nightmare, especially when flying home 🙁 Getting compensation can be VERY difficult so it’s great hear you were persistent with it and successful in the end.

Well done you! I’m still trying to get our compensation as well as the refund of our incurred expenses out of BA, for the disruption last May! But instead of being reasonable, and understand that we are loyal BA customers and member of their Executive Club for many years, they want us to raise a case with CEDR instead. All that does is increase their costs, delay our compensation, and make us very very angry with BA, and instead of being our “airline of choice” they become our “airline of last resort”?

I would say, the biggest change we have noticed over the years with BA isn’t so much the erosion of the onboard service, or the number of “tired” planes we’ve flown on – its the decline in their customer service which is the most worrying 🙁

My long haul flight was cancelled by Emirates while I was on holiday. The new flight was 4 hours longer and made me miss my connecting flight – adding more than 10 hours to my total journey!

Since complaining to Emirates, they claimed that the EU regulations for compensation don’t apply in the case of a connecting flight (which the court of appeal says they do). Instead of complying, they are writing to the supreme court for further guidance – which means I have to wait an unspecified length of time for an answer, and they won’t even say whether they will pay the compensation if the supreme court tells them to!

Very poor 🙁

J M S Boyd says:
1 February 2018

Ryanair not only put passengers through the gate when there was no aircraft – for another 1 h 50 m. they also did so in a violent thunderstorm, leaving passengers in a tin shack, with ever decreasing floor space due to the water flooding in from torrential rain, children screaming due to overhead thunder & lightening. All complaints sent about this were ignored, on 1 occasion they even denied the flight existed, until 18 months later – when suddenly an offer to re-route appeared. Guiness Book of Records for inappropriate, late offers to amend? Needless to say, no offer of compensation.

Another issue is that different TOCs have different practices concerning compensation. Chiltern, for example, pays nothing for delays caused by falling trees or suicides, Virgin West Coast (and maybe others) pays out under all verified circumstances.
This is crazy and may not be well-known.

It seems that if an outward flight is cancelled by the airline and they leave you at the airport with no information, no rep, no re-booking, you cannot claim compo for the return flight that you will not be there to be able to use. Are we spposed to walk across the Atlantic to get there?!

We where told ten minutes before boarding our easy jet flight 1st june ncl to alc was cancelled due to them not having a crew to fly the plane. Utter chaos followed. They knew hours before we went to airport but still let us all go through the boarding procedure. Now they say they want 2 more weeks to investigate why the flight was cancelled. Anyone else on that flight?

Catherine Wightman says:
23 July 2018

My daughter flew from Liverpool to Paris with Easyjet, to connect with another Easyjet flight to Figari in Corsica. Three hours after arriving in Paris she was told that her flight to Corsica was cancelled due to industrial action. The next flight was 48 hours later. They offered to put her up for two nights, plus taxi, plus food etc. As she was starting a new job two days later, she transferred onto an Easyjet flight from Lyon (500km away) the following day. They asked her to sort out her own accommodation and claim back all of her travelling expenses. She booked a first class train ticket because it was the cheapest (58 Euros instead of 97 Euros in second class – and we have proof of this). Now they are rejecting this ticket, saying that she chose to travel in a different class than her original ticket. Surely that only applies to a replacement flight with another airline. She has probably saved them a couple of hundred Euros or more by taking the option she did. They say they will take an average of 21 days to respond. That was 55 days ago. No response to emails, online chats or phone calls. Rubbish customer service. Compensation for cancelled flight rejected due to industrial action – even though several other Easyjet flights left after they had cancelled the flight.

we were due to fly out to Amsterdam Schipole airport this morning 8 o/c, we were text 2.30 this morning only to say the flight was cancelled, no information followed, we managed to get a compensation number, and was all morning trying to fill out this form on line, then at the end could not send the form, would not accept it six time we tried kept filling it out then trying to sending still would not accept, we just don’t know what to do, how can they get away with this, they ruin peoples holidays with no conscience

It is shocking that the government institutions and regulators are not taking any actions against airlines that constantly abuse passenger rights to flight delays and cancellation compensations. Ryanair is widely known for abusing customer right and yet there does not seem to be any legal / financial consequence that they face when breaking consumer laws.

Last year Ryanair cancelled my flight the day before my departure, I tried to contacto them by chat but it didn’t work. I tried to rebook the flight but there weren’t any flights available so I had to buy a flight with another company. In summary, I spent €500 (flight ticket, accomodation and food). I claimed muito refund at Ryanair and they said that they’ll send me a check but curiosly that f*****g check never was sent, so I went to a lawyer and she contacted Ryanair and they said that they don’t care. Some european authority or the UE need to do something about Ryanair’s abusive behaviour and other companies of course. Customers should not be treated like crap, we paid a ticket, we have a life, this companies have to be punished and pay their customers rights

Government should be taking action on this without the need for a petition. However if the airlines were ethical they would take care of their passengers and automatically reimburse them ss well.

Having been put in a position where I was forced to either accept a 14 hour reroute with +1 stop to replace a direct 9 hour, and told that i either accept or cancel, I think it’s about time the Flag carrier airlines where investigated along with the budget carriers. The attitude to passenger complaints seems derisory.

Steven says:
4 September 2018

Nice Easyjet check-in 19:00 Sunday 8 July for last flight of day. Flight cancelled. Exhausting queues for explanation. Overnight accommmodation arranged and in hotel by 01:00 9 July. No flights available next day so had to book alternative with British Airways in order to be back to work on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. THEY BROKE THEIR CONTRACT WITH US. Trying to get through on helplines to Easyjet impossible. 2 months later… and its time to act. Thanks Which?

I missed out on compensation as I couldn’t provide proof of booking as it was done by phone. Surely the airlines know passengers details from when they book in and their passport details are checked and they should not refuse payment if proof cannot be provided.

I was delayed three and a half hours on a flight from Singapore to Heathrow in February. Singapore airlines refused my claim as it was not a European based airline. Has anyone had a similar experience.

Myself, wife, and two children had booked a flight with Swiss from London City Airport to Bangkok via Geneva on Swiss/LX461/ 09:55 on 25/08/2018.
I and my family were denied boarding this flight 4 minutes before boarding due to a technical fault with the aircraft. The flight was supposed to leave at 09:50 was told it was not going and taken to the Swiss ticket office and after some time given a new ticket from Heathrow to Delhi then on to Bangkok with 4 £10 vouchers for food and a taxi to London Heathrow, the 10 hour 50 minute delay caused us many problems. We applied for compensation from Swiss air on their web site. They said they where not responsible as it was a technical problem. We are now using a legal firm to pursue the claim as we are sure they owe us the full 600e per person.

Norwegian Air cancelled our flight from Chania to Gatwick on 5/8/18 as we waited to board. Advised to find our own way home. Still negotiating refund of hotels, transfers, meals etc but they deny any right to compensation as crew sickness is claimed to be an “exceptional circumstance” and they are not liable! Currently waiting for their reply to Hellenic Aviation Authority who advised them to pay.

What are NOT extraordinary circumstances?
If your long delay was caused by one of the following, you may be entitled to compensation according to EU law:

Issues with airline staff e.g. crew turning up late or understaffing
Bad weather affecting a previous flight, causing your flight to be delayed
Denied boarding due to the flight being overbooked
Technical problems with the aircraft (except hidden manufacturing defects or problems caused by sabotage)

“Issues with airline staff” might well cover sickness. i’d have thought you would be able to seek compensation. Which? Legal would have a view on this.


Mike Brown says:
15 March 2019

The part about bad weather affecting a previous flight is there any case law about this as the airline is now relaying on this reason for rejection of my claim