There aren’t that many industries where not being late for work would be considered an accomplishment. But in aviation – it is. Airlines themselves constantly monitor and publically announce their on-time performance results, while webpages like OAG or Flight on Time even rank them based on this parameter. Surely, there are well-justified reasons for some delays, especially when it comes to ensuring flight safety.

But what if a flight is late for other reasons? Take, for instance, Singapore Airlines(SIA1) (SINGY) incident on February 26, 2018. The almost three hours delay occurred after cabin crew allegedly entered a restricted area at Hong Kong airport by breaching security procedures. AeroTime caught up with Marius Stonkus, CEO of a claim refund company Skycop.com to talk about airlines, flight delays, and passenger rights in Europe.

Are flight delays a big issue in Europe? Do you have statistics what percentage of total flights are delayed or cancelled?

Unfortunately, based on Eurocontrol, every year air passengers have to deal with an increasing number of flight disruptions. Statistics show that up to 20% of European flights are ruined by a cancelation or delay. 50% of all disrupted flights arrive late to their destination because of some airline mistake – ineffective work by employees, delays, inefficient fuelling schedule and similar reasons. Weather conditions account for 30% of flight disturbances, while the rest 20 % are technical issues, safety threats, etc. In the EU all flight disturbances can be divided into claimable or not. If it wasn’t caused by an extraordinary circumstance like a safety threat, airplane manufacturers fault, political unrest or severe weather, all passengers, whose flight was delayed for more than three hours, cancelled or overbooked, are entitled for up to €600 flight compensation.

Are there any airline ‘leaders’ whose name constantly reappears in claim forms you receive? In other words, are there such airlines that delay flights more often than others (in your experience)?

It’s hard to name a few – it ranges from budget regional businesses to large international flight companies. However, we can look at flight disruption statistics to identify which flight companies’ names should be reappearing on the table. Based on a recently published OTP yearly punctuality report, in 2017 such market giants like Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) , Air France and Turkish Airlines had 24% of their flights arriving late. Together they serve over 250 million passengers per year and with such punctuality score these airlines alone disrupted plans for around 60 million travellers last year. Talking about LCCs, recent statistics from Flightstats reveal that only in January, 2018, Norwegian air Shuttle, Condor and Thomson had more than quarter of their flights delayed.

In your work you focus on the European Union Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004. Can you compare, how European passenger protection looks in comparison to other continents and countries? For instance, is Europe more/less strict on airlines than, let’s say, the U.S.?

Although EC 261 is far from ideal, European travellers enjoy a much better rights protection scheme than their U.S. counterparts. U.S. regulations don’t have a lot to say about air passenger rights regarding flight delays or cancellations. In short, across the Atlantic it’s up to the airlines to decide whether to compensate their passengers. However, in the EU every passenger who has experienced a flight delay of over 3 hours, flight cancellation less than 14 days prior the departure or has been denied boarding due to overbooking is entitled to a flight compensation of up to €600. Extraordinary circumstances are the only exemptions to the rule. However, it’s important to note that it really doesn’t matter if your flight disturbance is claimable or not, the most basic rights if you get your flight cancelled or delayed for more than three hours is food and water. The airline employees must provide you with these fundamentals and in addition give you a chance to make a phone call, give access to the Internet and if necessary – overnight accommodation.

Are there any passenger rights that should be improved or better protected in Europe?

One of the few more challenging areas are the difference in periods during which passengers can claim their compensations in different countries as well as the increasing number of airline strikes. We are keen on changing the way the law looks at strikes. With European airlines facing financial instability and specialist shortages, strikes are still treated as “extraordinary”, thus not a claimable situation. For now, we are gathering the facts, but after that – a petition is definitely on the table and if necessary, our team is ready to go all the way into talks with the European Commission over the ways the law will better suit current aviation market and its tendencies. After that we will go after compensation claim periods.

In your website it is highlighted that 95% self-submitted claims are rejected by airlines. Is there a particular reason for this?

According to our data, only 5% of those that self-submit claims receive the proper compensation. It is a sad number, however, some figures are even more devastating. Airlines in EU owe over €3.2 billion to the European passengers and this sum is getting bigger every single day. Airlines are naturally not interested in paying out compensations and rather dodge the bullet. The most common ways airlines try to avoid paying out is time lingering, bureaucracy and deception:

TIME LINGERING

  • The claim is investigated for a preposterous amount of time
  • Airline forgets to send you an answer (every correction (necessary or not) takes 30 days to process)

BUREAUCRACY

  • Travellers are blamed for incomplete claim forms, wrongly placed signatures, etc.
  • Airline ignores requests from the CAA
  • Carrier tries to exploit different laws in different countries

DECEPTION

  • States deadlines that are nowhere to be found or heard about
  • Claims that rules don’t allow revealing information about the flight
  • Offers the deceived passengers ridiculous compensations – food coupons, flight coupons, discounts, etc.

The last improvement in the European flight market was back in 2013. It defined extraordinary circumstances and in a way put flight disruption out of airlines responsibility. Since then, this part of the regulation has become the favourite carriers’ loophole, for flight companies started blaming weather conditions and technical issues for most of the flight disruptions. All in all, the situation is slowly getting better, however, if you look at the growth rate of the aviation industry – the laws are trailing behind. It is why we are taking action against some of the airlines that tend to be the worst in terms of paying out the flight compensations.