Passengers suffering delays at airport. PA
Airlines have been accused of obstructing passengers from seeking compensation for delays and cancelled flights.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a website that offers travellers assistance with claims has come up against European airlines that refuse to share information and others that reject complaints forcing passengers to go through lengthy and often off-putting procedures.
'Passengers are often not aware of their rights,' said Raymond Veldkamp from Flight-Delayed.com, a company which has represented travellers in seven European countries, including 800 from Britain.
'They will usually be fobbed off with vouchers for a future flight, when they are entitled to proper compensation,' he told the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Veldkamp said that airlines reject claims '95 per cent of the time' and deliberately fill their letters to claimants with legal jargon, putting passengers off taking further action.
He urged carriers to be more open with information about delays and said that Ryanair was one of the most difficult companies to deal with.
The budget airline responded, describing the claims as 'ambulance-chasing rubbish.'
A ruling this week at the European Court of Justice confirmed that passengers are entitled to cash compensation for long delays, unless they are caused by 'extraordinary circumstances.'
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said that the latest ruling, which stated that mechanical problems do not constitute 'extraordinary circumstances, could now force airlines to reconsider hundreds of existing claims.
Under current regulations, passengers who fly to or from an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airport or with an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airline are entitled to meals, refreshments and free telephone calls if their flight is delayed by three hours or more.
Since 2009, travellers facing these delays have also been entitled to cash compensation between £204 and £490, depending on the length of the flight.
In Britain, these claims have been on hold since August 2010 pending a legal challenge by airlines, such as BA and easyJet.
'Airlines try to mark every case as an "extraordinary circumstance",' Mr Veldkamp told the Daily Telegraph.
'Ill crew, broken cockpit doors, congested toilets... we receive odd justifications on a daily basis.'
Telegraph Travel's consumer editor Nick Trend said: 'Unfortunately, the definition of "extraordinary" is used to cover most delays, including those caused by bad weather, strikes and political instability.'
'In practice, it is only in a relatively small proportion of cases, such as when an aircraft develops a technical problem, that the airline becomes liable.
'And airlines hold all the cards – it may be a hard and expensive process for a consumer to prove what caused the delay.'
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