Airlines eye £100m compensation while stranded passengers left with nothing

Airlines are hoping to recoup £100million from this week’s air traffic meltdown while denying stranded ­passengers compensation.

Carriers are said to be preparing for potential legal action against the National Air Traffic Service, which suffered a system failure on Monday. Industry bosses say the bill could top £100million. Yet passengers have been left thousands of pounds out of pocket with no chance of claim­­ing compensation because the air traffic failure was deemed beyond the airlines’ control.

Others were forced to shell out for hotels and new flights home after being unable to contact their airline. Although they can potentially claim this back, experts say many will face a fight. Consumer champion Martyn James said: “If the airlines get any money from NATS then they should use that to pay back customers in full.”

Mr James said he had heard of airlines refunding flyers their fare price automatically when they ended up stranded. While seemingly good, doing so would let airlines off the hook for covering new flights and other costs, which could be more expensive. EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said: “An incident of this scale should not have happened and must not happen again. ­

Stranded passengers at Heathrow
Stranded passengers at Heathrow
Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock)

“Passengers deserve to see a full ­independent review.” He added the review should not only result in improvements to prevent a repeat of the failure but also consider staffing levels at NATS. EasyJet has laid on extra flights but admitted they were being offered on a first come, first served basis.

Thousands of ­holidaymakers have been left stranded for days despite flight schedules returning to normal. Analysis of airline websites by the PA news agency showed most flights from destinations including Crete, Majorca, Antalya and Sicily to the UK are sold out until the weekend.

British Airways said it will continue to reduce the size of its business class cabins on short-haul routes to maximise capacity. Pregnant Lucy Chang, who was visiting Greece with her ­hus­­band Iain faced a 10-day wait to return to the UK. Instead, they booked a flight with a rival airline, which returned yesterday.

Iain said they had paid “well over £1,500” in total. NATS’ chief executive Martin Rolfe, who has been criticised over his £1.3m pay package, said initial inquiries had shown an “unusual piece of data” received by the firm caused the issue. A report into the breakdown is due from NATS next week. Theories include that a ­dup­­­­licate flight plan was filed which corrupted the system.

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