… and all must have prizes!
In the Caucus Race, in Alice in Wonderland, Alice asked the Dodo, who was organising the event, who had won. After some deliberation the old bird replied “All have won, and all must have prizes”. This seems uncannily to foreshadow modern attitudes to education and pedagogy.
Today in Strasbourg we will be voting on a new EU measure on compensation for delayed airline passengers. And the new version of the Dodo’s line seems to be “We are all victims. And all must have compensation”.
Of course a delayed flight is infuriating – I should know, because I spend much of my time on aeroplanes. And when we’re annoyed and frustrated, it’s very natural to demand that someone should pay. Equally, it’s a good feeling to get a cheque in the post.
But it’s worth stopping to consider who pays in the end. Immediately, of course, it’s the airline (and jolly right too, you may say) But hang on. In the end, airlines get their funding from passengers through fares, and if we impose higher costs on them, sooner or later we get higher fare prices. The cost of compensation is not just the total of the cheques paid out, but also the very considerable costs in administration, and in handling the queries and disputes that inevitably arise. And ultmately those additional costs end up with the long-suffering passenger. It doesn’t mean that you get back the time you wasted. It doesn’t mean that you get back the business you lost at that meeting you missed. It’s just money. And in the end, you pay for it.
Of course if a flight is cancelled, you’re entitled to your money back. And we need clear rules as to what counts as “cancellation”. A replacement ticket for two days time is of little value if you were going for a particular meeting or a particular football match. Maybe it’s time we all grew up and accepted that sometimes flights are delayed, and we just have to live with it. It may be for a reason completely outwith the control of the airline – like an Icelandic volcano. Perhaps it’s a strike, or a mechanical problem, and we could argue till the cows come home as to whether that was the airline’s fault (Should they have settled the strike? Should they have spent more on maintenance? Should they have held a spare aircraft in reserve?). And no airline wants or plans to delay flights or let down passengers. Let’s just cut through the debate and recognise the risk. After all we don’t sue the Department for Transport when we’re delayed by a traffic jam.
Much the same comments apply to the huge amounts of compensation paid out by the banks. Now I know that there’s little milage these days in saying nice things about banks, but the truth is, we need them, and we’d be in bad shape without them. (Very likely your pension fund is holding bank shares, so punishing banks may well include punishing you). Compensation payments have been so large that they may have had a material effect on the economy – boosting sales of new cars, for example. But the costs and the damage to the financial system have been big. And if there’s been mis-selling, there has also been mis-buying. Whatever happened to the old principle of Caveat Emptor? If you buy something you don’t understand, you face a real risk of loss. So don’t buy products you don’t understand. Or at least get independent advice. Those who mis-bought Payment Protection Insurance presumably appreciated the peace of mind that came with it, even if with hind-sight they didn’t really need it.
It seems to me that there’s a strong case for recognising the world as it is. That includes delayed flights. And it includes doing some thinking and checking before we make major purchases. And living with the results of our own mistakes, if we’re unfortunate enough to make them. I fear that the Compensation Culture is getting out of hand.