Thousands of stranded passengers are resorting to taking airlines to court for failing to pay compensation for delayed flights.
Soaring numbers of claims are being brought against big-name carriers because they have refused to pay damages to people whose trips have been ruined.
Lawyers claim passengers are being forced to take the desperate step because airlines are simply ignoring their complaints.
They have accused well-known budget firms such as easyJet and Ryanair as being among the worst culprits.
Daniel Morris, director of aviation law specialists FairPlane UK, said: “It sounds ridiculous, but it is the only way we can obtain compensation for passengers within a reasonable time frame.
“In some cases airlines have even confirmed in writing that they owe this money, and have agreed a timescale to pay it, but have simply failed to do so.
“They are simply playing the system.”
FairPlane is currently dealing with more than 3,000 claims from disgruntled passengers – with fresh cases brought every week.
Specialist lawyers from another firm, Bott & Co, have another 7,000 on their books and say they have already settled claims for almost 45,000 people.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, passengers are entitled to compensation of between £180 and £430 if their flight lands three or more hours late.
Airlines have a duty to let passengers know about their right to a payout but often wait for court proceedings to be issued until settling compensation claims.
Kevin Clarke, flight delay lawyer with Bott & Co, said European rules on compensation payments are crystal clear but that has not stopped airlines from making the payout system “very complicated”.
“To my mind, it is really clear what their responsibilities are,” he said.“The law says you have a duty of care to your passengers if flights are delayed.”
Online company AirHelp - which assists air passengers secure compensation for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights - has ranked 27 of the world’s airlines according to how well they deal with flight compensation claims.
It named easyJet as among the worst airlines for dealing with compensation claimants. Ryanair was also high on the list.
Co-founder of AirHelp Nicolas Michaelsen said the “overwhelming” number of cases which go to court went in favour of the customer. They include Sandra Dunbar, from Glasgow, who won a pay-out when she was stranded for more than six hours when a flight from Malaga, Spain, to her home city was held up.
EasyJet said the delay was caused by bad weather.