Flight chaos

German airlines will simplify passenger compensation claims

Many holidaymakers faced long waits for flights this summer.
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Many holidaymakers faced long waits for flights this summer.

Airlines in Germany agreed on Wednesday to make it easier for passengers to claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations, including by app, after massive problems this summer.

The promise was made by airline and airport bosses at a meeting with the German justice ministry which had pushed for a stronger aviation industry commitment to passenger rights.

Flight delays and cancellations hit record levels this summer due to a mix of strikes and weather problems, as well as capacity, air traffic control and ground handling issues. More than 14,000 flights were cancelled in Germany between January and mid-September while nearly 29% of all flights were either postponed or cancelled, according to passenger rights portal AirHelp.

As a result, countless holidaymakers and other passengers were stranded or faced time-consuming delays flying to or from their destination. The total value of compensation entitlements reached €823 million, according to AirHelp calculations. Yet relatively few passengers actually claim the compensation they are entitled to because the process is too complex, according to campaigners and politicians.

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting, German consumer protection minister Katarina Barley (SPD) had called for “urgent action” to improve the situation for passengers. “Information about rights, complaints and arbitration opportunities belongs clearly visibly on the (website) home page,” she declared. It should be as easy to claim compensation as to buy a ticket.

Against this background, airlines agreed at the meeting in Berlin with the justice and transport ministries as well as with consumer protection organisations to simplify the claims process.

In future, claims should be processed through centralised contact points. Passengers will be able to make claims not only on paper but also through smartphone apps. Moreover, airlines and airports promised to inform passengers better about flight postponements by SMS, e-mail, app and on information boards.

Gerd Billen, justice ministry state secretary, said: “Transparent, rapid and simple compensation processes as well as the acceptance of mediation are important steps on the way to improving the situation, in our view.” The measures could easily be introduced in the near future, he underlined.

Airlines and airports already agreed at a meeting with German transport minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) in October a package of operational measures to ensure this summer’s problems would not be repeated. These include more aircraft and crews on standby and faster airport security controls.

Guido Beermann, transport ministry state secretary, commented: “The number of flight cancellations and delays this summer was unacceptable.” He said all parties had agreed to work “intensively” on implementing the agreed measures before the next joint meeting in March 2019.

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