UK flight compensation scheme will reduce average payments | consumer affairs

The government’s plan to overhaul the air passenger compensation scheme has been described as a step backwards for consumers, resulting in “small amounts of compensation that are often not worth claiming”.

Earlier this week the Department for Transport (DfT) announced it was consulting on proposals to overhaul air passenger rights rules – but only for flights within the UK.

The move, described by the government as “another Brexit victory”, will lead to a two-tier system, with the UK system operating alongside the original EC 261 rules which were adopted before Britain left the EU, and still apply to international flights into and out of UK airports. The DfT is limited in its ability to change rules regarding foreign flights due to international air transport conventions.

Currently, someone on a domestic flight from Edinburgh to London is entitled to claim £220 once their flight has been delayed for three hours, unless the cause is extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather. The compensation due is fixed and is not linked to the price paid by the passenger.

Long-haul travelers on a flight from Japan to the UK are entitled to £520 if they are delayed for four hours or more, plus other benefits such as re-routing if the flight had been cancelled.

The DfT now offers a system similar to the train delay compensation scheme for domestic flights. On the face of it, passengers might be better off as partial refunds would start just an hour late. However, the amount paid is tied to the fare.

The proposed scale is:

1h to 1h59: 25% of the ticket price.

2h to 2h59: 50% of the ticket price.

Three hours or more: full refund of the ticket.

The change would mean a passenger who had paid £50 for a domestic flight would receive £12.50 back after a 90 minute delay. It’s unclear if the “fare paid” would include extras such as paying for baggage, but it’s likely that it does.

Currently, that same passenger would get nothing until a three-hour delay, in which case they would receive £220.

It is not clear if the “fare paid” would include extras such as baggage payment. Photography: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock

The government has not said whether the exemption for extraordinary circumstances will still apply. Most train operators reimburse for delays beyond their control, but airlines are subject to many more outside influences, such as air traffic problems, and would likely resist having to pay where they were not in mistake.

At the same time, the DfT has proposed that all airlines sign up to an alternative aviation dispute resolution system. This, he argues, would make it easier for passengers to escalate complaints without needing to go to court, although it has had a markedly mixed success rate in the energy sector. Currently, airline adherence to ADRs is only voluntary.

It also proposes to strengthen the powers of the Civil Aviation Authority, including the right to directly fine airlines for breaches. There are also long-enhanced rights for wheelchair users.

Bott and Co, a law firm specializing in theft compensation, said the government’s own figures suggest the average compensation payable will drop from £220 to around £23.60.

“In theory, the changes expose airlines to more compensation. However, the consultation recognizes that in reality far fewer people will feel like making a claim,” he said. “The net result is that airlines will save money because passengers will be discouraged from making a claim. If compensation is to be reduced to such a low level, it should be paid automatically.

Consumer advocate Helen Dewdney, who runs the Complaining Cow website, welcomed the move. She argued that current EU rules disproportionately penalize low-cost carriers.

“A fairer system for businesses and consumers must be a good thing,” she said.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said: “Far too many passengers have felt ignored or had to fight for compensation from airlines when things go wrong, so proposals to give to the aviation regulator stronger powers, including the capacity of the beautiful airlines which systematically flout consumer law are welcome.

“However, there are concerns that the plans set out in this consultation could be a bad deal for consumers if they result in a system that does not treat all passengers fairly. They could also reduce incentives for airlines to take consumer rights seriously and set a bad precedent that could then be extended to international flights.

“The government must reassure passengers that they will get fair compensation for the often serious disruption of a delayed flight and must ensure that all eligible passengers do indeed receive what is due to them through a system with rules. that can be applied.”

A DfT spokesperson said:

“These changes aim to provide consumers with easier and simpler avenues for compensation than those available under EU rules, with passengers on domestic flights being able to claim reimbursement for delays of between one and three hours. – which is not currently available.

“This is just one of many reforms that are being considered, with the overall aim of protecting consumers and ensuring fairness for passengers and businesses.”

Guardian Money has reviewed the rules and fears that one of the unintended consequences of the UK adopting its own rules could be that more domestic flights will be cancelled.

Before the EU rules were introduced, airlines routinely canceled flights at the last minute to save money, sometimes leaving passengers in the middle of nowhere without financial penalty.

With two groups of passengers in, say, London and Paris vying for the last plane available, low-cost carriers could choose to cancel the flight with the least financial loss, which could well be the UK flight.

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