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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
'Bigger payouts' for stranded passengers
Passenger sleeping at the airport
Will the payments compensate for nights at the airport?
Air passengers whose flights are cancelled or overbooked will be able to claim hundreds of pounds in compensation under a law proposed by the EU.

A good business should not let passengers down - the current practices really have to end

Mark Watts, Labour MEP
It is common practice for airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats on a flight.

And when an unusually high proportion of passengers with tickets check in, some customers are moved to a later flight in a practice known as "bumping".

Under proposals approved by the European Parliament, the minimum compensation that a bumped passenger can claim will double.

The proposed law has been passed in a first reading in the parliament, but must now be approved by EU governments and get through a second reading in the assembly.

'Plain wrong'

According to Mark Watts, a Labour MEP, more than 250,000 passengers a year arrive at check-in desks only to find they have been double-booked, or that their flight has been cancelled.

Mr Watts told Radio 5 Live's Wake Up to Money programme that airlines should not wriggle out of their contractual obligations to provide passengers with a flight.

Minimum compensation
Short haul :£125
Long haul: £380

"Airlines are plain wrong over this. Where they overbook, cancel flights or let people down, it's sound business sense to pay compensation.

"A good business should not let passengers down. The current practices really have to end and in future airlines should honour tickets or pay compensation.

"We're just putting right something that's been wrong for years."

Hot meals

If the new compensation rules pass the second reading stage in the European Parliament, bumped passengers on short haul flights - commonly defined as flights up to 1,900 miles - can expect a minimum of £125 in compensation.

Long haul customers affected can expect a minimum of £380.

Airlines will either have to accept less profit or put up ticket prices

David Nichols, Easyjet

Passengers whose flights are cancelled will also be entitled to compensation at the same level.

All delayed passengers will have the right to hot meals and free hotel accommodation.

By imposing such hefty penalties the parliament hopes to stamp out the deliberate overbooking and commercially-driven cancellation of flights.

Low-cost complaints

Low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet have said that the new compensation laws would spell trouble for cheap air travel.

They argue that the level of compensation should be related to the price of the passenger ticket, rather than a flat rate across the industry.

They proposed that bumped and cancelled passengers should be entitled to the cost of their ticket plus 50% extra.

The average budget airline ticket to Europe costs just £35.

David Nichols, a director of Easyjet, warned that some airlines could go bust if the proposals were enacted.

"In a couple of areas this will certainly cost more and airlines will either have to accept less profit or put up ticket prices.

"Some airlines could go to the wall over this."

Your Comments

This is just another example of the compensation culture taking over. People are just out for what they can get these days. I think that there should be a bona-fide reason to claim compensation. Being bumped for two hours on a holiday flight means very little but being bumped from a flight for a business meeting can have huge implications in terms of loss of business. Time to compensate those who really need it and not the whingers in today's society.
Pete, UK

Bumping and cancellations are not just restricted to budget airlines. On the contrary, I have experienced a far higher rate of this with Air Canada than I have with the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. These proposals would make good sense and for a change seem to come in favour of the public rather than the corporation.
David Gillworth, UK

Compensation should be based on price of your ticket - the level of service you accept for a £35 trip to Amsterdam or a £300 flight are totally different! In this case I agree with Ryanair and Easyjet.
Rob Yarlett, England

Airlines have absolutely no considerations for their passengers' welfare when the flight is cancelled or overbooked. Your whole travel plan is financially affected as a result of that. It's time they faced up to how they should treat their passengers decently!
Eric, UK

I was once bumped off a flight to Hong Kong by BA, but had to catch a connecting flight so gave the airlines loads of grief. Not only did I get on my original flight but also an upgrade to business class as well.
James, England

I have not experienced this myself, despite hundreds of flights. I suspect that this is because it mostly happens in the package holiday industry or the "low" cost airlines which I don't use that often. I have been offered an incentive once to take a later flight, but turned it down. My feeling is that the airlines are trying to make an illegitimate profit out of this, betting on a ratio of no-shows which result from persons not intending to take the return leg anyway to transport delays to the airport. I am in favour of transparency and a one booking per seat available policy - after all there are so many travellers on short-breaks these days that could go wrong because of the bumped off policy. A delay would ruin that person's travel which no amount of money could buy back. And those who look at the all-in costs will soon realise that a small premium paid for an airline based at a major airport is easily covered by the additional transport and time taken to get to some remote airfield at three in the morning!
Alex, UK

I always love the airlines' reasoning for over-booking: "It's because many people do not show up for flights." Well, most tickets are non-refundable, so even though these people do not show up, they have paid for their seat. My best guess for the many no-shows is the airlines' policy for not selling discounted one-way fares, only full-fare, which often makes buying returns cheaper, something I have done many times in the past.
Bas Scheffers, UK

I have been bumped on higher cost flights on occasion and always received compensation from the airlines involved. Sometimes I have had to push for it but generally they have been good. I think self-regulation is a far, far better thing, and if people don't like it they should vote with their feet!
Tessa, UK

I'm inclined to agree with the comments of the budget airline representatives. However, the compensation level still has to be set at a level where there remains an incentive for the airline to meet acceptable performance standards. A refund plus 50% may not be adequate incentive. As ever a case of getting what you pay for.
Roger T, UK

I commute between Gatwick and Zurich almost every weekend. While it would be fantastic to get compensation that is several times my ticket price, I feel this is a little excessive. I think the cost of the ticket plus 50% would be more than acceptable. I would rather continue to pay budget flight prices than have the chance of getting a bumper payout.
Stefan Gibe, England / Switzerland

Ticket prices have to be taken into account here. If you know that getting a flight at a particular time is important, then you have to pay for it. Business and above class passengers pay a huge premium for service so should see compensation. Those taking the cheapest tickets available should be well informed of the risks, but no more. No-one suggests £120 when a train arrives late or is cancelled out in the country where the next one may be two hours away.
Des Whittall, UK

The airlines dictate the ticket price, not the passenger. What difference does it make if you've paid £35 or £350 - if you're bumped it's still a major inconvenience. The likes of Ryanair don't seem to have grasped this yet. Let them compensate passengers who are penalised by a business model loaded against them.
Paul Jones, UK

If you want to stamp something out, you have to be hard on it, and the EU has, for once, had a really good idea. The practice of overbooking on purpose would cause a national outcry elsewhere, such as the rail industry or sports fixtures. Imagine buying a ticket for the cup final and then being told you could not watch, as too many people had come to watch?
Luke Senior, England

It is a long established principle that goods for sale should be fit for the purpose. If they are not, and the buyer suffers loss as a result, then the supplier must make good this loss. In the case of an airline ticket, what one buys is the right to be transported from A to B at a certain time and in a certain level of comfort. Should the fight be cancelled then, whatever the price paid or comfort level selected, the ticket has turned out not to be fit for the purpose. If that means a night in a hotel, a meal or anything else, then the airline should pay up. It is not good enough for cheap operators to provide a defective service, neither is cheapness a valid public interest defence against consumer protection.
Stephen Williams, England

Compensation for flight delays/cancellations should certainly be higher than it is. We arrived to check in for a flight at 5:30am only to be told that they had had to use the plane for another flight and that we would be facing a five hour delay. We received £6 in vouchers each to be spent at the airport. However, since the baby in our party hadn't paid for a seat (he was travelling on his parents' laps,) he wasn't entitled to any vouchers - yet he was the one who needed to fed & watered on time. I also think that it is terrible that the airlines get away with their delays and cancellations while the public complain about (usually shorter) delays on the railways.
Mrs G Ingram, UK

I applaud moves to end this unfair airline practice. BUT it must be relative to the ticket cost - the same delay on the same flight means some get many times the cost of their ticket back against others who get only a fraction of what they paid back. It should be a percentage of the ticket cost.
David Powell, UK

What have the airlines got to worry about? The only reason this will cost them a substantial amount of money, is if they continue this unfair practice. People do not want compensation, they want to receive the flight they paid for. If the airlines refuse to provide the flight for which they have been paid, they deserve to be punished.
Steve Carr, England

I find being delayed when going on holiday incredibly annoying, it's my holiday time that is being used up. Business may mean money is lost, but personal time is incredibly important to some. Compensation should be related to the level of service you're expecting. We need to ensure the airlines are not taking advantage.
Eric, U.K.

After spending the night on a hard airport floor in Treviso (Venice), with no food or even water available after a low cost airline cancelled our flight at 1 am in the morning, then to queue up to try to get on the next flight in the morning, I'm in full support of the proposals. If you read the contract that comes with your low cost tickets, you will see that no responsibility for anything is taken by the airline (apart from a refund if you don't fly), no compensation, no meals, no bed, not even a guarantee of the next flight out. If a carrier takes payment for a particular flight then they should have a responsibility to stick to their side of the 'bargain', if not, then they should pay compensation for breach of contract. Another occasion with the same airline, left us stuck at the airport for hours while our delayed flight was re-assigned to a later timetabled flight, so the carrier could fiddle their punctuality figures. I would never fly with them again!, I would rather fly with FedExpress, at least I would probably get to where I'm going ON TIME.
Huw, UK

I'm quite surprised to be agreeing with the budget airlines - a flat fee is silly for a £10 flight to Amsterdam.
Huge, UK

After having my flight cancelled from Athens to London on British Airways and finding out that I was not entitled to any compensation for the 25 1/2 hour delay, I actively choose not to fly British Airways. If they had been gracious and offered compensation I would be much more likely to fly with them again. The law should be changed as is proposed to include flight cancellations because as it is at the moment, there is no compensation for cancelled flights caused by mechanical fault.
Nicholas Evans, USA

I think the practise of deliberate over booking is criminal. As a frequent traveller I can tell you that having 3 to 5 hours added to your journey because of overbooking is no fun at all. In some cases I have been at the airport more than 1 hour before the flight and still been bumped. So I am in favour of the compensation if it means an end to deliberate over booking.
Michael Begley, Sweden

In my opinion this should not be the case the travel industry is suffering enough and sometimes cancellations are imperative for safety reasons! I'm with the airlines on this one!!
Sarah Lake, UK

I was "bumped" in 1992 on a Continental Airlines flight from New York. I received free accommodation for the night in a good hotel, with a $500 travel voucher. It didn't bother me because I volunteered to be "bumped". I believe the industry regularly overbooks transatlantic capacity by 6%, so I'm not surprised that this is now an issue. Matt
Matt, Swindon, UK

If the airlines were on time and didn't overbook their flights then they wouldn't need to pay compensation and they would get a better reputation. So why complain that some airlines would go bust?
Andrew Baylis, Italy

To Pete(UK) - Surely your reasons for travel should not be an issue here? If you have paid up front for a service which you then do not receive then you should be adequately compensated. By purchasing a ticket, you have entered into a contract with the airline - if they fail to honour that contract then it should be at their expense and not yours. We expect the same standard from high street stores - why should airlines be any different?
Lee Upcraft, France (UK Citizen)

Whatever airline you are flying the inconvenience and costs incurred to you as a result of a late flight are the same. The low-cost airlines do try all the tricks in the book to reduce costs (flight cancellation included). I like the no frills approach, just so long as they don¿t see getting there on time as a 'frill'.
Richard, UK

While overbooking is a problem, Southwest Airlines compensated with a ticket twice the price and a free flight on the next out going flight. This, although inconvenient, seems fair enough to me.
Sean, New York, USA

The whole system should be revised. When you buy a ticket, this should form a two party contract. The purchaser buys the seat and the airline commits to honour the trip. Refunds and changes should only be reimbursed by the airline if they can reasonably resell the ticket. Airlines in turn should only sell tickets for which seats are available. People who just don't turn up should lose their money. If there is a genuine reason, they would normally be covered by insurance. Airlines who do not honour the ticket by providing the advertised flight should have their licence revoked.
Trevor Alexander, England

Cathay recently attempted to bump me off a flight and I refused to move from the check-in desk until I was given a boarding pass. Surely if I book and pay for a ticket with a specified departure time I should expect a seat on the flight?
Mark, Hong Kong

It's fair to penalise the long haul operators, after bumping is a planned strategy of theirs designed to protect their bottom line. But I would remind the customers of low cost airlines that you can't have it all! If you take advantage of the fantastically cheap fares available, you should accept that that you might get messed around occasionally. If you don't like it, fly BA!
James Harding, UK

It's about time something was done about this. I've lost count of the number of times either myself or my colleagues have been bumped onto later flights. In my experience, this happens frequently in Business Class due to last-minute check-in times and the fact that the business traveller often carries just hand-luggage. By the time you get to boarding, the plane is already full and the airline doesn't have to remove your bags from the aircraft. Business passengers are an easy target, which is ridiculous considering the cost of a ticket.
Caroline Measures, Belgium

Whenever I've been bumped, staff have been more courteous than they'd otherwise be! When the airline industry is facing such crises as it is now, surely this proposal is ludicrous?!
Tim Parker, Japan

Compensation shouldn't just depend on ticket price. What about time wasted hanging round? Isn't that worth something?
Keith, UK

I agree with the low cost airlines. I had a flight from Milan to London cancelled at the last minute and, although this was inconvenient, was satisfied with the free return flight voucher (on any route) that I received in compensation. In effect I got two holidays for the price of one. This cost substantially less to the airline than the EU proposals, but left me, the customer, very satisfied.
Claire Duggan, Manchester, UK

A flat rate for compensation for being dumped or a cancelled flight would be good for the passenger. I was travelling from Australia with my wife back to the UK and when we arrived at the Airport we were told that the flight had been cancelled at the last moment. However the airline were very good in that we were offered drinks vouchers and eventually accommodation etc until the re-scheduled flight. However had the delay been less than 24 hours I doubt we would have had the same offer. It's about time that the airlines were brought into line with other businesses, in that if you pay for a service, regardless of the cost, you expect it to be delivered.
Joe, Oman

The root of the issue is the reason for the airline's policy of overbooking. Is it because people don't show up for their flight? If so, put the penalty on the no-show, not on the persons who are abiding by their contract to show up for the flight.
Jay Smith, USA

I was overbooked on a flight from Heathrow to Venice. At first I was very annoyed, but when they said I could get on the next flight, plus a full cash refund, and spend a few hours in the business lounge, I was overjoyed. Every time I travel abroad, I try to be the last one there, in the hope of a repeat.
hoar, UK

What about further connecting flights that are missed as a result of a cancelled flight, where the ticket is not flexible or refundable ? How would a traveller recoup this cost.
Ken Fawell, Norway

An excellent idea. There is over capacity at the moment and if some airlines go bust because they have to provide a service that's tough. If we had fewer flights we would not have to constantly seek to expand Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. Nor would there be the need to build new airports on "green" sites.
Stephen, UK

Fair enough if it's because the airlines overbooked for maximum profit. Not if it is cancelled for reasons outside of the airlines control, such as weather or ATC delays. EU needs to be fair to both sides not just create more hurdles for business.
John Henderson, UK

My wife recently failed to check-in for a flight she had booked. Precisely the behaviour airlines complain about. Why did she do it? Simple. She was emigrating to the UK and the airline wanted significantly more for a single ticket than a return. So she bought the return and didn't go back!!
Richard Simpson, UK

I travel frequently into Latin America, Invariably on certain routes such as Miami-Caracas, American Airlines is heavily overbooked or oversold. The airline will always ask passengers interested in being bumped off to go to the desk. Thence, they are given a $$Dollar cheque plus guaranteed seat on the next flight and usually if it is nighttimes, they get free hotel accommodation.
Michael Smith, GB in USA

Hoorah! Even if a traveller is forced to forego their immediate travel plans even once due to the greed and cavalier attitude of the airlines, it is a travesty. Imagine if you were heading for your daughter's wedding or your father's funeral? As the author of your article plainly states, a contract is a contract is a contract. What other industry leaves its customers in the cold and turns such a blind eye to their discomfort like the airlines do? Enough is enough. I surely hope the U.S.A. takes up this fine idea and institutes a similar law to curb these abuses.
Leslie McMurray, USA

Simon Calder, travel editor, Independent newspaper
"The raft of measure that the European Parliament has pushed through today are very misguided"
See also:

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