Airline executives call for new UK rules on passenger compensation

By Joanna Plucinska

LONDON (Reuters) -Airline executives on Wednesday called on Britain to draft new rules to allow carriers to share responsibility with air traffic control and airports for any disruptions to flights so the burden of paying out customers doesn’t fall solely on them.

“There has to be recourse for airlines … We can’t be the insurer of last resort for everything that goes wrong in our industry,” Loganair Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles told the British parliament’s transport committee.

In August, an air traffic control glitch in Britain caused thousands of flight cancellations and delays in and out of the country, with the head of NATS, the national air traffic controller, promising it wouldn’t happen again.

Airlines said they were left with the responsibility to pay customers back for the disruption despite it not being their fault.

“At the moment, the airlines are taking the pain for it,” easyJet Chief Commercial Officer Sophie Dekkers said, while Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary argued NATS should repay airlines 15 million pounds ($18.3 million).

NATS Chief Executive Martin Rolfe said he understood the frustration of airlines but safety, not cost, was the air traffic controller’s priority.

“NATS’ primary purpose is to prioritize safety over all other things … We’re not focused on cost, we’re focused on safely fixing and restoring traffic,” Rolfe told the committee.

Britain has rules similar to the European Union on passenger compensation, which allow customers to claim up to 600 euros ($634) for flight delays of three hours or longer.

Airlines are in theory liable for delays they cause but often they offer payouts to consumers for delays caused by other factors too, like weather and air traffic control issues.

($1 = 0.8200 pounds)

($1 = 0.9461 euros)

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska)