In May this year, Andres Korin, 41, boarded an easyJet flight bound for Nice, France, after a three-hour delay at the airport. But while he and his family queued at the airlift, the flight was cancelled.
“People had already boarded the plane and sat down when they canceled it. No one could get a straight answer from easyJet as to what was going on,” said Mr. Corin.
It came 24 hours after a software bug forced the airline to cancel about 200 flights across the country, for which it had encouraged passengers to claim compensation in accordance with standard regulations.
The family postponed the holiday and easyJet issued a refund and paid £76 in compensation to cover the cost of a taxi back from the airport.
But Mr Korin’s claim for £880 in compensation – £220 per family member booked on the flight – was rejected by easyJet, who blamed the fiasco on an “extraordinary event” beyond its control. The airline said the delay and cancellation were due to issues with air traffic control at Gatwick, for which it was not required to pay compensation.
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We are sorry that Mr Korin’s flight was canceled due to delays caused by air traffic control restrictions, causing our crew to reach their maximum safety-regulated operating hours.
“While this was beyond our control, we would like to apologize to our customers for the inconvenience caused.”
But as The Telegraph approached Gatwick airport, a spokesman said the air traffic control restrictions were in effect for arriving flights for only two short periods that day.
He added: “The impact on flights was considered low, so it would be surprising if this was the cause of this canceled flight.”
It is a stalemate in which thousands of passengers become entangled in the middle of the year. Travelers can claim compensation if a flight is delayed by more than three hours or has been canceled at short notice, but only if it is caused by a problem within the airline’s control, such as technical problems and wear and tear on the aircraft.
But in the event of an “extraordinary event”, such as safety, natural disasters and air traffic control problems, the airline is relieved of responsibility and customers have no option for compensation.
Frank Brehany, a consumer rights expert, said: “The excuse of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is not intended to cover any reason – the purpose of the defense is to cover events that could not be seen or predicted.”
Passengers claim that airlines made the damage worse by ignoring their requests for compensation for months. Mr Korin said he chased easyJet for a response after 45 days, despite the company’s terms and conditions that it would reply within 28 days.
Mr Hobbs said the Civil Aviation Authority, the regulatory body, needed stronger powers and a new ombudsman to mediate disputes.