Tens of thousands of holidaymakers who suffer long delays on Thomson flights this year stand barely any chance of winning compensation.
A Money Mail investigation found Britain's biggest tour operator is routinely weaselling out of paying legitimate claims for delays lasting three hours or more.
Thomson appears to have resorted to dragging its feet, then issuing blanket rejections as it struggles with a backlog of claims. We have submitted a dossier of damning cases to the firm and the aviation watchdog.
Let down: Thomson, Britain's biggest tour operator, is routinely weaselling out of paying legitimate claims for delays lasting three hours or more
Many customers have fought for compensation for months and are close to giving up after being blocked at every turn.
The findings will raise concern that vast numbers of families who travel with Thomson this summer could be left in the lurch if they're held up at the airport.
- UK chief of world's biggest travel group TUI tells why we... Home and away holiday winners! The essential guide to spend... DAN HYDE: Why we've exposed the gilded lifestyles of the... ASK TONY: Ryanair had no room for my mobility scooter so I...
Share this article
HOW THIS IS MONEY CAN HELP
- Play your cards right: The best credit cards for spending, holidays, rewards or clearing your debts
Our investigation found that Thomson is:
- REFUSING to pay out for delays caused by broken toilets, staff shortages and other faults within its control;
- TAKING up to six months to reply to customers;
- LOSING paperwork and then forcing customers to resubmit their claims;
- DENYING passengers compensation — even when the aviation regulator has told it to cough up.
Under EU rules you are entitled to up to €600 (£460) if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late. You can claim for delays up to six years ago.
The only exception to this rule is if the delay is caused by circumstances out of the airline's control, such as bad weather or strike action.
Industry figures show that around 0.8 per cent of people who fly in and out of the UK every year are entitled to compensation for delays.
That means around 44,000 of the 5.5 million passengers who travel with Thomson and First Choice annually may be able to claim this year.
However, Thomson's time-keeping is particularly poor, separate figures show. Three in ten Thomson flights arrive late — double the industry norm, according to claims firm Flight-Delayed.co.uk.
Jane Harding, 61, and her husband Stephen, 66, should each be entitled to €400 (£615 in total) after they were left waiting at Tenerife airport for nine hours last November
So the true number of people who can claim could be much higher. Though many of these delays will be for less than three hours and so will not qualify for compensation.
Thomson's record of handing out compensation appears to be even worse than its time-keeping. Money Mail has been inundated with letters from families who have been given the runaround when they claimed.
The warning signs of a major problem are on Thomson's website, which states that if you have a complaint about a holiday it will get back to you within 28 days, but it'll take a minimum of 56 days — or six weeks — if the gripe concerns a delayed flight.
Jane Harding, 61, and her husband Stephen, 66, should each be entitled to €400 (£615 in total) after they were left waiting at Tenerife airport for nine hours last November.
Yet after spending three months ignoring the retired couples' letters, Thomson has thrown their claim out.
It says the reason for the delay — damage to the aircraft on an earlier flight — counts as an extraordinary circumstance, so it doesn't have to pay.
Kenneth Melville and wife Annabelle were returning from Tenerife when they suffered a 21-hour delay
Even after the Spanish aviation authority said Thomson should pay the Hardings, the firm has dug its heels in.
Jane, a retired council worker, says: 'The staff at Thomson just fob you off. The 56 days they tell you to wait is just a delaying tactic while they come up with an excuse.'
Kenneth Melville, 66, and his wife Annabelle, 67, were returning from two weeks in Tenerife in January when they suffered a 21-hour delay.
They were told at the airport that the flight couldn't go ahead because the crew had worked for longer than they were allowed under aviation rules.
Kenneth complained to Thomson within a week of getting home, but was told the delay was due to snow at Glasgow airport, meaning he couldn't claim compensation.
But Kenneth says an easyJet flight bound for Glasgow had left the same airport that night and not been delayed.
He says: 'They could have properly planned staff working hours, but they blamed it on snow. They just don't want to pay out.'
Stories like the Hardings' and the Melvilles' were once much more common. For years airlines routinely wriggled out of paying by claiming technical faults counted as extraordinary circumstances, as well as rebuffing claims that were more than two years old.
But a six-year legal battle culminating in the Supreme Court in October 2014 sided with passengers.
The Civil Aviation Authority says it is still overwhelmed with complaints, and has launched an independent ombudsman service for passengers following pressure from Money Mail.
Airlines can sign up to one of two services: the Airline Dispute Resolution scheme (part of the Retail Ombudsman) or the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) — although they are not obligated to join either.
Thomson signed up to the CEDR on February 1. But the service will only take claims where the customer's final rejection letter arrived after that date.
Passengers who've been fobbed off by Thomson have been bombarding claims firms. Of the 35,000 who filed a claim with Flight-Delayed.co.uk last year, a third had flown with Thomson — the highest proportion of any airline.
And of the claims the company pursued against Thomson, a huge nine out of ten went to court because the airline refused to answer its calls and letters.
Adeline Noorderhaven, UK manager of law firm EUclaim, says: 'Thomson are notoriously bad when it comes to compensating for delays. Their claims department does not respond adequately and all of the cases we've won against them have only been honoured due to the pressure of court proceedings.'
Carol and Dennis Brace are so fed up with chasing the airline for compensation following a 30-hour delay in June 2011, they have given up.
The couple were on their way home to Cardiff after a fortnight in Corfu with four friends when a technical fault meant the plane had to divert to Brindisi, Italy.
The six friends should be entitled to £1,845, but Thomson won't pay. It says technical issues are not within its control.
Grounded: The findings will raise concern that vast numbers of families who travel with Thomson this summer could be left in the lurch if they're held up at the airport
The couple's only options are to escalate their complaint to the Spanish aviation regulator, which can't force Thomson to pay, or go to court.
Carol, 73, says: 'As a group of pensioners, we're not in a position to pursue it through court. They've made it so difficult we just can't do any more.'
Thomson says: 'We are sorry for any customers experiencing delays with their claims. We remain committed to maintaining an excellent on-time performance.
'We will not process any claims submitted by unregulated claims management companies, who routinely take a large percentage of the payment as commission. Customers should submit their claim directly to us.'
EDITOR'S DEALS OF THE WEEK
Easy access saving
Easy access saving
Market-leading 3.15% interest rate
Deposit from £1 Interest paid monthly
£50 Amazon voucher on sign-up
£50 Amazon voucher on sign-up
24 months at £32 per month
Fixed term saving
Fixed term saving
Competitive 4.10% interest
One year fixed term saving
Up to £1,000 cashback
When you transfer an account
Affiliate links: If you take out a product This is Money may earn a commission. This does not affect our editorial independence.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.