Last week, a system-wide malfunction of the UK’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) lasting several hours caused severe disruptions to flights to, from or simply passing over the Kingdom.
Although the issue was identified and remedied in a few hours, it took several days for schedules to return to normal, with more than 2,000 flights cancelled in 3 days all over Europe. Some passengers were left stranded at airports across the continent, while others decided to find alternative means of getting home, one couple spending 63 hours returning to Norwich from Split by bus and train instead of waiting for the next flight out, from fear of facing another cancellation.
Regardless of when or how passengers finally reached their destinations, they are now waiting for airlines to compensate them for the delays and cancellations, according to their rights under the UK’s compensation system. However, under the circumstances, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called the compensation system unjust and demands its reform to better represent the realities of the aviation industry.
This incident is yet another example of why the passenger rights system isn’t fit for purpose. (…) The current system does not protect passengers. It hurts them.Willie Walsh, IATA Director General
“Airlines will bear significant sums in care and assistance charges, on top of the costs of disruption to crew and aircraft schedules. But it will cost NATS nothing. The UK’s policy makers should take note. The passenger rights system needs to be rebalanced to be fair for all with effective incentives. Until that happens, I fear we will see a continuing failure to improve the reliability, cost efficiency, and environmental performance of air traffic control. The current system does not protect passengers. It hurts them”, IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, said in a statement.
The Association estimates that the reimbursements for food, accommodation and alternative ways of transport will cost airlines around £100 million (about €117 million) in lost revenue, due to an issue that was neither caused nor preventable by airlines. While sympathising with the passengers, Walsh stressed that it is the responsibility of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to review the NATS resilience plan and their oversight led to an unacceptable failure of an essential travel service.
IATA thus calls on the CAA to review and reform the passenger rights system to ensure that the right body is held accountable when disruptions appear and the cost of such incidents is not unfairly passed over to airlines. Moreover, the association highlights that without a change, air traffic control operators have no incentive to improve their reliability since they do not cover any expensed caused by failures in their systems.