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Travel disruption continued: tying the pieces together

September 25, 2013
Author: Philip Martin


Travel disruption will be an issue for the travel industry, that affect all stakeholders including the traveller. Back in 2013, we took a look at how to put passenger first when disruption happens and we would like to recall one of the replies we received from Andrew Sharp, Policy Adviser at the International Air Rail Organisation (IARO) and see what has evolved. 


Starting with the end of your journey, if you were delayed by more than an hour, you were entitled to compensation from the train company – a partial refund of the new expensive ticket you had to buy because your flight was late. Some operators give you more than your strict entitlement – typically, compensation for delays in excess of half an hour. Even though your journey involved more than one train operator, you should have received compensation for the entire rail journey.

Backing this up is a good if a complex system for delay compensation on Britain’s railways. If one operator or the infrastructure owner delays a train of another operator, they have to pay compensation. If any train is delayed by more than a small amount, the delay attribution system kicks in, recording the cause and the amount of delay recorded to that cause.
Now there is a limited relationship between this inter-operator system and the compensation you should have received, but it is the basis of it!

I understand that the current EU proposals for consumer protection in the aviation industry are similar, although with a 3-hour delay rather than a 1-hour delay triggering compensation. The proposal, I believe, was for the first carrier (rather than the carrier causing the delay) to compensate the passenger. This saves having the complex delay attribution system which exists on Britain’s railways, but at a cost of some unfairness to carriers.

Indeed, regional air carriers seem to have secured some kind of opt-out. If you have a ticket from Athens to Barra via London, Inverness and Wick and are delayed on the first leg of your return journey, it is the last carrier (London – Athens) rather than the one carrying you between Barra and Wick who has to compensate you. This is because of the perceived unfairness of making a small regional carrier pay all that compensation.

Unfortunately the same does not apply to air-rail connections. If you have an integrated ticket from New York JFK to London Paddington via Heathrow and Heathrow Express, and a delay on Heathrow Express causes you to miss your return flight to New York, Heathrow Express will have to compensate you (as the legislation stands – it may well get amended). And this will discourage intermodal ticketing!

Logically, the organisation causing the delay should pay the compensation. But how much? What if a passenger flies from New Zealand to Barra for a wedding, and misses it because the final flight is delayed, frustrating the entire purpose of the trip? The airline at the end of the journey has earned a very small part of the fare from New Zealand: the passenger will want a 100% refund because he’s wasted his trip – but is it equitable for the small airline to pay the lot? And suppose the delay was because of bad weather – fog, for example? Would be then reasonable for the passenger to be covered by insurance? Or just to allow more time!

There are also complications because only the passenger and perhaps the travel agent knows all of the legs of the trip – Nice to Harrogate, in your example. Your airline didn’t know you were going to Harrogate: East Coast Main Line didn’t know you were flying from Nice to Gatwick before catching First Capital Connect to King’s Cross to catch their train to Leeds. So at the moment anyway, they cannot keep you informed because they are not informed! Either (somehow) you need to share your full journey and contact information with all of your carriers, or those who do know what your entire journey looks like need to ensure that you get updated information on each leg of your journey pushed to you.

Certainly part of the jigsaw is there, in places. If you fly through Heathrow you can sign up to their Flying Messenger service: that alerts you to possible delays on your specific flight. You can do the same for a number of British train operators – you can create a journey on their web-site and ask to be told if there are delays. Which is fine if you make the same journey regularly – if you are doing a once-a-year or even once-in-a-lifetime trip, you probably wouldn’t have the enthusiasm or maybe even the knowledge to do that!
At the moment, picking up the pieces if one leg of an intermodal journey disrupts the rest is quite tricky, with major problems of work and communications. Linking all of this up may take some time!

But with the benefit of age, let me share a story with you of when it did work. I was travelling back from Switzerland to London via Paris and Calais in 1968 – yes, long before the Channel Tunnel! At Basle there was a sign saying the equivalent of “France is shut” – because of the major labour disruption of that year known then as the ‘evenements’. I was able to use my ticket to travel home via Cologne and Ostend with, as I recall, no problems at all!

Andrew Sharp


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