BBC Watchdog Highlights Airline Breaches With Flight Claims


BBC Watchdog raised questions on last night’s show as to whether major airlines are complying with updated legislation relating to flight delay claims. The programme focused on some of the most popular airlines such as Thomson, Thomas Cook and Monarch Airlines who had refused consumer pay-outs on compensation after significant delays had been caused.

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Airline Escape Term – ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’

All three airlines refused compensation to consumers on the basis of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. These are things that airlines define as being out of their control. However Travel Lawyer, Alan Bowen confirmed that ‘extraordinary circumstances’ only cover issues such as unexpected weather/natural disaster events i.e. volcanic ash incidents or issues relating to medical emergencies on board.

Flight Delays And The Civil Aviation Authority – Are They Doing Enough?

Alan Edge, was delayed 12 hours on a trip to Tunisia due to a smoke dispersing from a chiller cart on board the flight. Thomas Cook refused to pay-out anything to Mr Edge on the basis that this was an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. Alan Bowen commented stating that this was incident that should have been expected and prepared for. He went on to say that regular maintenance should be carried out by airlines and standby staff should be on board should technical issues arise.

Anthony Durrant and his partner also experienced delays when travelling with Monarch Airlines. They were delayed 9 hours from Portugal due to there being issues with a previous flight. Anthony was put on different plane which departed at a later time than that the one originally scheduled. Similarly, Monarch put this down to ’extraordinary circumstances’ and rejected Mr Durrant’s claim.

Mr Durrant then contacted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to ensure compliance with flight legislation by the airline. Whilst they could ensure this to an extent the CAA could not force the airline to pay-out, which meant Monarch could easily escape liability for the claim.

Ms Karen Strahan was another consumer who faced similar issues. Her flight with Thomson was delayed 14 hours to the Dominican Republic in 2008. Thomson refused the complaint on the grounds that a claim needed to be brought within 2 years, as ‘international carriage by air’ is governed under the Montreal Convention Rules. Travel Lawyer, Alan Bowen stated that the European Union (EU) had confirmed in a case earlier this year that the time limit to bring claims is 6 years from the date of the flight and not 2 years.

Following a discussion with Iain Osborne from the CAA, the concern was that consumers were informing the CAA but the airlines were not listening to them. Many consumers were therefore being left with no further options.

What Our Experts Say

Rozeena Mahatay, Consumer Law and Personal Injury specialist at Simpson Millar confirms that “many airlines are getting away with significant breaches. Whether a flight is delayed or cancelled, consumers should be taken care of. That means meals and overnights stays should be provided where required. Airlines also need to be dealing with these complaints adequately, if they are not and the consumer has had no luck via the CAA, consumers have the option to bring proceedings in a Small Claims Court.”

Whilst Thomas Cook were said to be reviewing their complaints following the recent EU decision, Monarch Airlines and Thomson have refused to overturn their decisions. If airlines fail to carry out regular maintenance, any technical faults cannot be put down to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and legal advice should be sought.

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