A call for automatic compensation for flights delays has come from consumer group Which? after an analysis showed that thousands of passengers were being refused payments for late and cancelled departures.

Carriers were ordered by the Civil Aviation Authority to compensate passengers in up to eight in every ten cases after refusing, but even then they are not legally obliged to pay, the study found.

The findings prompted Travel Counsellors founder David Speakman to tweet: “This is an absolute scandal and should be paid out automatically.”

Figures show that budget carrier Norwegian was advised by the regulator pay up in 83% of cases in the 12 months to August last year.

Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling, owned by British Airways parent company International Airlines Group, was told to pay out in 79% of complaints.

Ryanair was ruled against in 77% of cases; Thomson Airways in 69%; Thomas Cook Airlines in 41% and easyJet 39% of the time.

British Airways, which had 1,166 flights delayed by more than three hours last year, the current threshold for compensation, was overruled on 48% of occasions.

The Which? findings follow BA facing heavy criticism after a power failure led to 700 cancelled flights over the late May bank holiday weekend.

Separate figures obtained by Which? showed that Emirates was the worst for ignoring CAA rulings, having been advised to pay compensation in 60% of cases take to the authority, but refusing to pay in 74% of cases. The Dubai-based carrier has been in a long-running dispute with the UK aviation regulator over its interpretation of the rules.

Under EU rules, passengers are eligible for €250 (£220) for short-haul delays of more than three hours inside the bloc. This rises to €600 (£527) for more than four hours on flights of 2,175-miles or over. Airlines can refuse to pay if delays were caused by circumstances beyond their control such as weather.

Passengers unhappy at a rejected claim or those who fail to get a reply in eight weeks can complain to the CAA. Since August last year most are handled by dispute resolution bodies.

Which? criticised the system after it emerged that airlines are not obliged to abide by the CAA ruling and called on the government to introduce a transport ombudsman that all airlines must join to improved the way in which passenger complaints are resolved.

Which? managing director of home products and services, Alex Neill, said: “Some airlines seem to be making it as difficult as possible for passengers to receive the money that they are rightly entitled to for flight delays.

“We want to see airlines introduce measures so that, where possible, passengers are compensated automatically for delays and cancellations.”

A spokesman for Norwegian said: “We understand that punctuality is vital for our passengers, and we strive to operate all flights on schedule.”

The airline maintains a ”consistent policy” regarding delays and cancellations under the EU261 flight compensation regulations.

An Emirates spokesman said: “As one of the world’s largest airlines, we comply with all legal requirements and regulations as set by the relevant authorities.

“The issue of EC261’s application to our flights from the UK involving a stopover in Dubai is currently pending before the Court of Appeal.

“We will rigorously defend our position, and challenge the blanket application of EC261 to every situation, without consideration of context or the safety of our passengers. Emirates, like any responsible airline, puts the safety of our passengers first and to be penalised for this is absurd.

“The safety of our passengers and crew always comes first, and many flight delays are caused by factors that are beyond our control and which are not the airline’s responsibility – such as inclement weather, bird strikes, and airport closures.

“We do everything possible to ensure that any disruption caused to our passengers is minimised. In the event of flight delays or cancellations, we always ensure that our customers are looked after.”

A BA spokesman said: “We fully honour our EU compensation obligations and process claims as quickly as possible. We take all complaints seriously and if customers have cause to raise any concerns we address them as soon as we can.

“Should customers be dissatisfied with our response they can contact CEDR who we have selected as a professional and impartial adjudicator of claims.”

A Ryanair spokesman said: “These 504 complaints were received in an eight month period in 2016 when Ryanair carried over 83 million customers.

“This shows just how good Ryanair’s EU261 compliance is. In the last 12 months Ryanair has paid over €40 million in EU261 compensation to over 110,000 passengers with valid claims, which is less than 1% of our traffic.

“These figures clearly prove that Ryanair both understands and fully complies with our EU261 obligations.”

An easyJet spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities under EU261 seriously, comply with all regulations and have been commended by the CAA for our claim handling.

“We have also made improvements to our claims process since then making it quicker and easier to claim.”

See also: 

Flight compensation claimants face higher court costs

O’Leary dismisses £610m Ryanair compensation claim as ‘trot’

European court rules out delay compensation for bird strikes