Five major airlines face enforcement action for denying passengers compensation for delayed flights

  • American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines all face action from the Civil Aviation Authority, following the regulator's review of airline policies for paying compensation.
  • Vueling also faces CAA action for its approach to providing passengers care and assistance during disruption.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today launched enforcement action against five major airlines for denying passengers the compensation they are legally entitled to for delayed flights.

American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines all face enforcement action, after a CAA review found each of the airlines to be breaching consumer law. The airlines confirmed to the CAA they do not pay compensation to passengers who had experienced a delay on the first leg of a flight that caused them to miss a connecting flight and, as a result, to arrive at their final destination over three hours late (Singapore Airlines currently places compensation claims for these delays on hold). The airlines' refusal to pay compensation in these instances fails to meet the legal passenger rights requirements for flight disruption*.

Under European rules, passengers are legally entitled to compensation if they arrive at the final destination of their journey more than three hours late - including if booked on a connecting flight - unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances. These rights apply to any flight departing an EU airport, regardless of the nationality of the airline. This is an important issue for passengers - the CAA estimates that over 200,000 passengers each year travelling on these airlines could be at risk of missing their onward connection and thereby being delayed by over three hours at their final destination. 

The CAA's own complaint data shows that the most complained about airline for non-payment of compensation for connecting flights was Emirates. While Turkish Airlines has given their passengers access to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service, which is designed to ensure they can get quick, independent and binding decisions on their disputes with the airline, none of the other airlines facing enforcement action have joined ADR services. The regulator is therefore calling on these and all other airlines not using ADR to commit to giving their passengers access to these complaint services as soon as possible.

Richard Moriarty, Director of Consumers and Markets at the CAA, said: 

“Any disruption to a flight is frustrating for passengers, but delays that cause people to miss connecting flights have a particularly damaging effect on people's travel plans. That's why there are clear laws in place to make sure passengers that experience this type of disruption are looked after by their airline and compensated when the disruption was in the airline's control. 

“Airlines' first responsibility should be looking after their passengers, not finding ways in which they can prevent passengers upholding their rights. So it's disappointing to see a small number of airlines continuing to let a number of their passengers down by refusing to pay them the compensation they are entitled to. Where we see evidence of passengers systematically being denied their rights, we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to ensure airlines change their policies and their customers get the assistance they are entitled to.”

The CAA's enforcement action follows a comprehensive review of airline policies for supporting passengers experiencing disruption. The review looked at the different policies of the top 31 airlines operating in the UK, focusing on four areas: care and assistance during disruption; compensation for missed connections; denied boarding (when passengers are “bumped” from flights); and downgrading (when passengers are downgraded to a lower seat class). 

The CAA has also started enforcement action against Vueling for failing to comply with the minimum standards for care and assistance - including a lack of clear oversight to check passengers are being looked after within the requirements of the law. 

On downgrading, the CAA required a number of airlines to amend their policies during the course of the review. We also worked with a number of airlines to ensure that those who offer the choice of a voucher for free travel in cases of downgrading or denied boarding make it clear to consumers that they can choose to have cash. These issues were resolved without the need for enforcement action. 

The full review is available from the CAA website. Airline responses to the CAA's requests for information as part of the review is also on the CAA website.

For further media information contact the CAA Press Office on 00 44 (0)207 453 6030 or press.office@caa.co.uk. You can also follow the CAA on Twitter @UK_CAA.

Notes to editors 

  1. The support passengers are entitled to during disruption - including information about their rights and financial compensation - is set out in European Commission Regulation EC261/2004.
  2. * European guidelines on passenger rights during disruption are clear that the final destination of a connecting flight is the last airport listed on the passenger's ticket.
  3. Passengers experiencing delays who think they are entitled to compensation may be able to refer their complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service, which can provide an independent and binding decision on their case. Details of which airlines are signed up to ADR bodies are available here. Passengers of airlines not in ADR schemes can refer their complaint to the CAA.
  4. The CAA's review looked at the policies of the 31 airlines operating in the UK with the highest passenger figures. It follows previous reviews of EC261 compliance, which have led to successful enforcement action against a number of airlines.
  5. The vast majority of airlines reviewed by the CAA are meeting the minimum compliance standards for care and assistance to passengers during disruption.
  6. The CAA notes there is a pending legal case regarding Emirates that may be heard at the Court of Appeal, after passengers were refused compensation by the airline for disrupted flights. The CAA's position is that the European courts have already considered the issue of missed connections and European Commission guidance is clear when airlines should pay compensation.
  7. The CAA is using its formal powers under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002 to resolve the issues identified for the benefit of consumers and to ensure that airlines operating in the UK treat passengers fairly when adhering to the requirements under EC261/2004.
  8. While the CAA is not an ombudsman and does not have the power to force airlines to pay individual passengers' claims, it can take action in the collective interest of consumers for systematic breaches of consumer law.
  9. The review was carried out as part of the CAA's enforcement approach that places the onus of compliance on airlines, with the CAA targeting enforcement resources specifically at problem areas.
  10. Later this year, the CAA will be carrying out a further review of airline compliance with legal obligations to reroute passengers who experienced cancelled flights.
  11. The CAA's regulatory enforcement policy is available here.

 The CAA's Consumer Protection Team

The Consumer Protection Team works to ensure that aviation consumers receive fair treatment and get the rights they are legally entitled to. It does this through regular compliance work, by setting quality standards and by reviewing the practices of airports, airlines, tour operators and travel agents.

To find out more about the team's work read: In Focus: How the CAA protects consumers and promotes the legal rights of UK air passengers.