More air passengers on UK domestic flights could receive compensation for delays and have easier access to resolve complaints under government proposals announced on Monday.
Passengers would be entitled to a partial refund of their fare after a delay of one hour instead of the current minimum of three hours – rising to 50% after two and a full refund after waiting three hours.
However, the system could see many people receiving less money than before. Under EU regulations, which Britain retained after Brexit, passengers are entitled to at least £220 in payment after three hours of delay.
The Department for Transport said the new model, based on how train and ferry operators offer compensation for delays, would be a significant and fairer change.
Low-cost airlines have argued that compensation levels often exceed the fare. Airlines often do not pay compensation when delays are deemed beyond their control, for example due to extreme weather conditions, security alerts or air traffic strikes.
The government could also require all airlines to participate in alternative aviation industry dispute resolution. [ADR] system, which allows passengers to escalate complaints if they believe they have not been resolved, without recourse to legal action.
Currently, membership is voluntary. Ryanair left the program in 2019.
Britain’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, would also have increased powers to enforce consumer protection law and directly fine airlines for breaches.
Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, said the consultation was “a clear indication of the need to strengthen our enforcement powers and align ourselves with other regulators”.
Airlines could also be forced to pay full compensation to wheelchair or scooter users for any damage to their device in flight. Current liability under the Montreal Convention is capped at around £1,200, well below the potential cost of repairs or replacement.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the proposals “aim to strengthen airline consumer protections and rights” and “would help build a trustworthy and reputable industry”.
Airlines UK, which represents a wide range of airlines including regional and national carriers, said it would be “looking forward to responding to the consultation [and] the possible recovery of the sector after Covid”.
In a sign of the revival of the airline industry, easyJet said it plans to recruit 1,000 student pilots over the next five years and has relaunched its training programme. The airline must focus on attracting diverse candidates – an advertising campaign features a parent, a former gymnast and a DJ who now work as easyJet pilots.
Only around 6% of pilots globally are women, although easyJet has doubled the number of female pilots in its ranks since launching a school recruitment drive in 2015.
Johan Lundgren, the airline’s chief executive, said: “Although we have made progress, there is still work to be done. Increasing diversity in all its forms in the cockpit is a long-term goal for easyJet and so we will continue to ensure we are at the forefront of the industry on this issue.
EasyJet and British Airways are also looking to recruit thousands of cabin crew for the summer of 2022. EasyJet said in November it would need around 1,500 seasonal crew. BA said in October it would seek to rehire former employees as it ramps up operations at a new Gatwick subsidiary, after laying off thousands of crew at the start of the pandemic.