Sunday, 24 February 2019

Jet2 calls for compensation reform yet makes it harder for passengers to get what they are entitled to

Philip Meeson               Photo Jet2
The UK's holiday airline Jet2 wants to deprive passengers of their legal rights to compensation for delayed flights according to the firm's founder and executive chairman Philip Meeson. Writing in The Telegraph he calls for reform after the airline has lost a number of appeals for compensation.  Here's his call for compensation reform-
"How can it be fair, for example, for one passenger on a delayed flight to be recompensed for the inconvenience, but for the person across the aisle to have their claim denied? Surely it would make more sense to make decisions flight-by-flight, rather than passenger-by-passenger. And why is it reasonable that a payout for a delay can be four or five times the price of a budget airline ticket?

Airline delays are a nuisance all round – to passengers, to staff, to the carrier itself. I speak from experience: for the last 16 years, we’ve built to become Britain’s third largest airline – this year, we’ll carry seven million holidaymakers to beach and city break destinations.

To customers, a flight is a way to get from A to B. It’s not that simple, though, behind the scenes – each journey requires multiple organisations to work together: airline crew, airport colleagues, security staff, air traffic control. Occasionally, things go awry and if it’s the airline’s fault, it’s right that the airline should recompense passengers.
The European Commission has fixed compensation levels for travellers held up by three hours or more: for a short flight to a destination such as Paris, it’s €250 per passenger, but for further afield – Spain, Greece or Italy - it’s €400. These sums were originally designed for cancelled flights but have, over time, been applied to delays, too.

For a holiday airline, these amounts are high. Our typical fare is £80. There is no link, under the EU’s rules, between the price paid for a ticket and compensation for a delay, which seems very unfair. For a delayed flight of 189 people, the bill for us is around €75,000. If that aircraft’s return leg is disrupted too, that’s a bill of €150,000. But the law is the law and we, of course, respect it.

The law is complex – it states that if a delay is caused by “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken” then compensation is not payable. Interpreting this has made the legal profession a lot of money – the courts have arbitrated, for example, on whether an airline is required to pay out if a plane has a technical problem (we do), or in the event that a “bird strike” damages an engine (we don’t).

For the vast majority of claims, pays straight away. But for a handful, there’s a disagreement. The way in which these disputes are handled is problematic. This is a technical area of the law which needs to be applied consistently.

The Civil Aviation Authority, in the past, has used an in-house team to adjudicate, a system which works well. However, in recent years the CAA has been urging airlines to sign up to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes, where it has appointed two third-party providers.

These two bodies – called Aviation ADR and CEDR – sometimes struggle with the weight and complexity of claims.  They use various adjudicators, often without full legal qualifications, to assess very technical issues. There is an imbalance of fairness in that rulings are binding on the airline – but not on passengers, who can go elsewhere to challenge an outcome if they don’t like it.

ADR schemes of this genre are unsuitable for resolving issues running to six-figure sums around a poorly drafted piece of European legislation. And it is concerning that under its proposed aviation strategy, Aviation 2050, ministers are considering making them compulsory.

A few principles ought to come into play. At present, adjudications are made on a passenger-by-passenger basis, which sometimes mean two people on a flight get different outcomes. It would be far more sensible for the first ruling on each flight to be a “reference” one that then applies to all the other passengers on board.

Impartiality goes both ways: both the consumer and the airline should be treated equally with equivalent rights of appeal on a ruling. Finally, we need to resolve these disputes without the involvement of ambulance-chasing “claims handling” firms which take up to 40% of passengers’ compensation.

The EC’s regulation, drawn up in good faith, has given rise to a cottage industry for chasing compensation. It’s time to revert to common sense with a simple, fair and effective mechanism for resolving complaints. If we are to use ADR providers, their decisions must be consistent, hold sway flight-by-flight and, if dubious, be subject to appeal."

Jet2 is one of the airlines that is, for the most part, popular with customers, on it scores 2/5 for its product, reviewcentre gives it 2.8 out of 5 based on 549 reviews (228 one star reviews), unverified reviews on feefo gives the budget carrier 4.6 out of 5. Skytrax ranks it a 3-star airline whilst their readers give it a 4/10 mark.  It's been a few years since I last flew with Jet2 and so I don't think it is fair for me to give a score and review, especially considering the aircraft I flew on, a venerable and nearing vintage 737 has now been retired from the fleet.

Jet2 is also one of the few airlines in the UK that haven't signed up to ADR and would, according to a letter from Meeson to the CAA, would rather take passengers to court than settle through ADR. Jet2 has also previously misled passengers regarding the nature of technical problem, claiming they were manufacturing issues, therefore exempt from competition payments. The budget carrier also changed its contracts to stipulate claims must be submitted within two years, while the law had a 6-year limit. The CAA had to take the firm to court to correct this. More details on this can be found in letters from Meeson to the CAA and its response, which are available on the CAA website.  

The budget carrier often bemoans drunk passengers, wanting airports to stop selling booze, or limit the number of drinks passengers can buy, yet it wants to continue to sell alcohol to those very same passengers. The firm sponsor's youth programmes like Love Island and ran commercials directed at stag and hen parties featuring people behaving slightly inappropriately, it designs itself as a 'party' airline and even has a competition to win a party plane. Yet it moans and complains when its passengers take the party ethos a little too far. It says the regulations are unfair, yet it doesn't say what it thinks is fair. The messages coming out of Jet2 seem to contradict each other and really do little protect, or enhance its reputation.