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Waiting and annoying at the airport: Around 84 percent of the conciliation cases related to air transport.

Photo: Christoph Hardt / Panama Pictures / IMAGO

Cancelled flights, delayed trains, lost luggage – things don't always go smoothly when travelling. In the event of a dispute over reimbursement, passengers and passengers can turn to the Arbitration Board for Public Transport (SÖP).

Around 39,700 people affected did so last year, according to the SÖP. This means that the office received almost a third more applications than in the previous year – and almost as many as in the previous record year 2020, when it received more than 41,000 complaints. This year, the number of cases could settle at a high level.

  • As usual, the majority of applications, around 84 percent, related to air transport. According to the SÖP, this was mainly about cancelled or no-show trips, flight delays or lost, delayed or damaged luggage.

  • Around 14 percent of all requests for conciliation related to the railways. Here, the conflicts mainly revolved around train cancellations and delays. "New additions were requests for conciliation in the context of the Deutschlandticket," the SÖP further announced.

Since 2010, the SÖP has been dealing with problems with air, bus, train and boat travel. For the most part, it is about compensation for delays or cancellations of flights and train journeys. Around 400 transport companies are participating in the conciliation procedure, which they finance themselves.

In around 85 percent of the cases, an agreement was reached in the interests of the travellers: "Many companies were particularly accommodating last year," it said. "More than one in three claims was accepted immediately, so that the disputes could often be resolved within a few weeks."

Chaos at airports, four warning strikes on the railways

According to the SÖP, the main reason for the significant increase last year was the chaotic conditions at German airports in 2022. In view of the resumption of passenger traffic, staff shortages in particular led to numerous flight cancellations and delays this summer.

These problems were also noticeable at the conciliation board in the first half of 2023, because it usually takes a few weeks for affected travellers to come forward by application. Especially in the months up to and including July, the SÖP usually received twice as many requests for conciliation as in the previous year. The figures remained high in the second half of the year, but did not reach the level of the same period of the previous year.

Not everything went smoothly for the railways last year either. It is striking that the proportion of railway-related applications to the SÖP increased from 12 percent in 2022 to 14 percent last year. This means that the number of rail disputes has risen from around 3600,5500 to more than <>,<>. The SÖP refers to new cases due to the Deutschlandticket. It intends to publish more detailed analyses of this in its annual report at the end of March.

There were many problems not only in regional transport, but also in long-distance transport. In November alone, almost every second long-distance train arrived late at its destination. Almost one in three passengers was affected by delays. The main reason for the high level of unreliability on the railways is the poor condition of the infrastructure. In addition, there were a total of four warning strikes in 2023 due to various wage disputes at the railways.

This is likely to continue in 2024: On the one hand, the wage dispute with the German Locomotive Drivers' Union continues, and on the other hand, it is likely to take years before the problems on the infrastructure are resolved. Dozens of busy corridors are to be completely renovated by Deutsche Bahn starting this summer. It starts on the so-called Riedbahn between Frankfurt and Mannheim. The routes are to be completely closed for months and completely renewed. So it will be more stressful for passengers before things could get better.

The SÖP expects a high number of applications for this year as well. "We expect to receive as many new conciliation requests in 2024 as in 2023," the office said. More and more travellers were using the SÖP, and the shortage of skilled workers and infrastructure problems, especially for the railways, remained a challenge.