LAST-MINUTE Scottish flight cancellations have soared by over a third during post-pandemic travel chaos prompting calls for government to scrap plans to make future compensation claims far cheaper for airlines and costlier for passengers.

Some 426 flights from Scotland were cancelled between April 4 and July 3 alone, according to analysis by the consumer organisation Which of data from aviation analysts Official Airline Guides.

That was 35% more than for the same period in 2019 when there were 316 affected, despite there being fewer flights overall.

There were as many 900 scheduled flight departures from Scotland cancelled with less than 48 hours notice in the first 32 weeks of this year.

The research found that if "astonishing" UK Government plans to cut compensation to passengers go ahead people living in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be "disproportionately affected".

That's because flights between Scotland and London account for five of the ten busiest UK routes - while the other five are between Northern Ireland and London.

At present, airlines face the prospect of paying tens of thousands of pounds in compensation for a single cancelled domestic flight. Compensation ranges from £220 for a delay of more than three hours on a route of less than 1,500km to £520 for a delay of more than four hours for a flight of more than 3,500km.

But there are concerns that government plans to change all that may mean that will not be the case in the future.

It is suggesting capping compensation for domestic flights at the cost of passenger tickets.

Compensation for delayed flights has been covered under European legislation (EU261) since 2004. Post-Brexit, the UK Government copied across the EU261 legislation into UK law.

But the UK Department for Transport is now reviewing payments for domestic flights.

Proposals in the Aviation Consumer Policy Reform Consultation, for which a review ran between January 31 and March 27, would link compensation to the price of travel on UK domestic routes – and payouts could be significantly reduced.

Under the suggested changes, airline passengers could claim 25 per cent of their ticket back after an hour’s delay, 50 per cent after two hours and a full refund after three hours.

Which calculated that for a fully booked flight running from Edinburgh to London, such a delay would see the airline footing a bill of £39,600. Under the proposed new system, based on calculations of an average ticket priced at £44, the maximum pay-out would fall to just £7,920.

Rocio Concha, Which's director of policy and advocacy said: Without a strong financial deterrent for airlines' poor behaviour, we run the risk of delays, cancellations and overbooking on domestic flights becoming the norm."

When Which challenged seven airlines – BA, EasyJet, Jet2, Ryanair, TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air – to provide information about flights potentially affected by compensation and the amounts they have paid out in recent years, none would reveal how much they pay out to passengers, with some citing commercial sensitivity.

HeraldScotland:

Meanwhile, in response to a freedom of information request, the UK's aviation regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had “no information” on how much compensation airlines have paid out in the last 10 years Which has launched a petition to call for a major overhaul of the travel industry an calling for the government to urgently equip the CAA with powers to issue hefty fines to companies that break the rules, saying that "only this will stop the chaos".

"The appalling way airlines have treated passengers by repeatedly cancelling flights last minute and not telling them about their rights is unacceptable," it said.

"We’re calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to set out a timetable for reforms to the CAA, giving it the tools and teeth to hold to account companies."

And the consumer organisation added: "Under the new rules, airlines will have no incentive to ensure passengers get to their destinations on time (or even at all). The government must drop these proposals and give the regulator more powers to keep airlines in check. We can’t allow compensation rules to work in favour of the airlines."

Punctuality across the aviation industry in 2021 was better than before the coronavirus pandemic due to the reduction in flights caused by travel restrictions.

But the situation has deteriorated this year, with staff shortages causing major problems for several airports and airlines, leading to tens of thousands of flights being cancelled.

Scots families were left stranded in Rhodes a month ago after TUI axed an Aberdeen flight while passengers queued to check in at the airport.

Holidaymakers were left to sleep on the floor in Rhodes after the 10.20pm flight was cancelled without any notice.

Pensioners and children were among those curled up on the floor for several hours without food or water while waiting for an update for the airline.

They were then shipped off to various hotels around the Greek island at around 2am before being told they would be booked on a flight to Glasgow the following night.

HeraldScotland:

Some passengers said they were offered a £150 holiday voucher as compensation.

According to an analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data, Wizz Air was the worst airline for flight delays from UK airports last year.

Departures for the Hungarian carrier, which operates short-haul flights from 10 UK airports including Edinburgh, were an average of 14 minutes and 24 seconds behind schedule in 2021.

Tui Airways recorded the second worst punctuality, with an average delay of 13m 18s, with BA in third.

The two most used UK airlines, easyJet and Ryanair, were among the leading performers for punctuality.

EasyJet had the second shortest average delay of 4m 36s, while Ryanair was third with 6m 6s. Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus was best with 3m 12s. Cancelled flights were not analysed and the average delay was 8m 30s.

Only Ireland’s flag carrier Aer Lingus performed better, with a typical delay of just three minutes and 12 seconds.

The analysis took into account all scheduled and chartered departures from UK airports by airlines with more than 2,500 flights. Cancelled flights were not included.

The average delay was eight and a half minutes per flight.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We’ve done everything within our power to support the aviation industry, including providing £8 billion to protect jobs during the pandemic, but it’s now for the sector itself to make passengers can get away on their well-deserved summer holidays.

“We recently unveiled a 22-point plan to support the industry, including accelerated national security vetting checks to help speed up recruitment, and a temporary amnesty on airport slots to allow airlines to plan ahead and prevent last minute cancellations.

“These measures are working and flight cancellations have recently fallen back to their 2019 levels following the changes, which are providing passengers with more certainty.”

 

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After disastrous period for travel, it’s time passengers’ rights took priority

Analysis: Rocio Concha

Travellers this year have suffered a summer of unprecedented chaos, with thousands upon thousands of us seeing our plans upended by last minute cancellations and delays.

With airlines and airports frequently failing to offer travellers anything close to an acceptable level of service, never has it felt more important for passengers’ rights to be strengthened. HeraldScotland:

Staggeringly, the UK Department for Transport appears to disagree – instead proposing plans which will reward airlines for their repeated failures, by limiting the compensation owed for delays or cancellations of domestic flights.

Flights between Scotland and London account for five of the top ten busiest domestic routes, and travellers in Scotland have had a particularly troubled time this year.
Without a strong financial deterrent for airlines' poor behaviour, we run the risk of delays, cancellations and overbooking on domestic flights becoming the norm.

For those in Scotland reliant on air travel to connect them to friends, family, and work in other parts of the UK, such last minute cancellations are more than mere inconveniences - and they deserve to be treated as such.

The DfT is suggesting introducing a compensation system similar to the ‘Delay Repay’ scheme many train users will be familiar with, whereby the compensation travellers receive is calculated as a percentage of their ticket price. 

That percentage may be higher or lower depending on the length of your delay, but ultimately, the absolute maximum you can hope to receive is the amount you paid for your fare. Based on the average ticket price for a domestic UK flight, this would be around £57 – which hardly seems proportionate to the inconvenience experienced, or potential costs incurred due to a severely delayed flight.

Though the government may argue this move will increase the number of people eligible for compensation, by allowing claims for delays from one hour or more, rather than the current bar of three hours, in reality passenger rights are being diminished in favour of airlines’ bank balances.

Airlines have lobbied for these changes, complaining that compensation can drain as much as 3 per cent of their annual turnover.

After a disastrous period for travel, surely the way forward is clear. Rather than setting a precedent which could lead to further weakening of consumer rights, we call on the new transport secretary to scrap these plans and instead support the people who have had their rights so callously disregarded by airlines time and again.

If you agree, I encourage you to write to your MP or MSP and sign Which?’s petition to Transform Travel.