Airlines caught breaching consumer laws were told to pay compensation or face the law.

Five major airlines have been accused of breaching consumer law by denying 200,000 passengers the compensation they are legally entitled to for delayed flights. American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines will have to pay compensation or they face being taken to court by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA said that all the airlines concerned had confirmed that they had not paid compensation when their delays meant passengers missed a connecting flight.

Under EU law, passengers are entitled to compensation if they arrive at their destination more than three hours late – including if booked on a connecting flight – unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances. These rights apply to any flight departing an EU airport, regardless of the nationality of the airline or the flights destination. Emirates was highlighted as the most complained about airline for non-payment of compensation for connecting flights, the CAA said, citing its own data.

Richard Moriarty, director of consumers and markets at the CAA, said the airlines’ first responsibility should be looking after passengers, instead of finding ways in which they can prevent customers from holding their rights.

“Any disruption to a flight is frustrating for passengers, but delays that cause people to miss connecting flights have a particularly damaging effect on people's travel plans. That's why there are clear laws in place to make sure passengers that experience this type of disruption are looked after by their airline and compensated when the disruption was in the airline's control,” he said. “It's disappointing to see a small number of airlines continuing to let a number of their passengers down by refusing to pay them the compensation they are entitled to,” he added. Mr Moriarty added that the CAA will not hesitate to take the necessary action to ensure airlines change their policies and their customers get the assistance they are entitled to.

According to last year’s data from consumer group Which?, a total of 449,000 flights were late by 15 minutes or more between April 2015 and March 2016, almost a quarter of the 1.9 million total. Around 10,000 of those were at least three hours behind schedule, according to the research. Long-haul travellers could be entitled to £250 if their plane lands between three and four hours late, or £510 if their flight is at least four hours behind schedule.