Thousands of passengers whose flights were grounded after Friday’s computer glitch are not entitled to compensation.
Carriers had a duty to look after passengers while they were in the terminal but would not have to make a financial payment because “it’s something the airlines can’t do anything about”, a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman told The Times.
More than 80 flights were cancelled and dozens of others hit by heavy delays after a system failure at Britain’s main air traffic control centre shut down air space for 36 minutes over London on Friday afternoon.
At least 10,000 passengers were affected with a backlog stretching into the weekend. The glitch caused delays at Heathrow and Gatwick, while other UK airports reported knock-on effects.
Dozens of arrivals and departures at airports across southern England, and as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, were delayed and cancelled.
Passengers complained that they were left in the dark about what was happening despite calls for airports and airlines to implement better contingency plans after previous disruptions.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to appear before MPs today, as will Richard Deakin, chief executive of air traffic control company Nats.
His remuneration, approximately £1 million, could be reduced because of the problems, a Nats spokeswoman said.
Airlines offered overnight accommodation for some passengers and to rebook or refund cancelled flights.
However, officials said they would not reimburse passengers who were left out of pocket because the incident was beyond the airlines’ control.
Under European regulations, passengers are entitled to receive up to €600 if their flight is cancelled, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances”.
A ruling by the Court of Appeal in June narrowed the range of circumstances that the carriers can claim as extraordinary, but it did not go so far as to include Friday’s air traffic control meltdown, experts said.
Nats also said it was not liable for reimbursing passengers even though it was a glitch in its software that caused the disruption.
Labour chairwoman of the Commons’ transport select committee, Louise Ellman, said MPs would investigate whether travellers should receive financial compensation if a similar situation occurred in future.
The committee will also demand an explanation for why so many passengers were left without adequate information about their flights, their options for booking new flights or their rights to compensation, she added.
Officials at the Department for Transport declined to comment about passenger compensation.
However, McLoughlin said: “Any disruption to our aviation system is a matter of the utmost concern, especially at this time of year in the run up to the holiday season.
“Disruption on this scale is simply unacceptable and I have asked Nats for a full explanation. I also want to know what steps will be taken to prevent this happening again.”
Sourced from Travel Weekly