For more than ten years Jet2 boss Philip Meeson travelled around Europe with the Marlboro-sponsored flying aerobatics team and was crowned British champion five times.
And it would seem his penchant for drama has not worn off since he hung up his jumpsuit in the 1980s.
His company, the UK’s fourth-biggest airline, has taken the aviation watchdog to court after it was criticised for not signing up to an industry-wide compensation scheme.
Jet2 boss Philip Meeson. His company, the UK’s fourth-biggest airline, has taken the aviation watchdog to court after it was criticised for not signing up to an industry-wide compensation scheme
But 71-year-old Meeson, who has a net worth of more than £500 million, was not prepared to leave the matter to his small battalion of solicitors.
Instead, he chose to attend the High Court wrapped in a trendy trench coat, joking loudly with bystanders and flicking his flamboyant knee-length red scarf as he marched into the chamber.
The swaggering boss has complained the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) overstepped its duties by using a press release to criticise it for opting out of the scheme to compensate delayed passengers.
Jet2 has suggested that the regulator may have gone beyond its legislative powers under the Civil Aviation Act 2012, in criticising it in December 2017.
At the time the company was the only one of the ten largest airlines to refuse to sign up. Meeson watched from the public gallery as lawyers representing the Leeds-based firm said the CAA had ‘trailed a bone scent’ in front of its media ‘attack dogs’.
The action came after the contents of a letter, sent by Meeson to the CAA, were leaked to this newspaper in February 2018.
In a separate test case back in 2014, Jet2 tried to argue that airlines should not have to pay for delays caused by technical faults, responding to a £1,000 claim from a grandfather delayed for 27 hours
They revealed the company’s reasoning for not joining the arbitration scheme, the stated aim of which is to allow rejected claims for compensation to be judged independently and cheaply.
More than a million passengers across all airlines suffer flight delays every year, and many are eligible for up to £532 in compensation. Meeson said he was worried about the ‘extraordinarily’ high levels of pay-outs customers would win, and that the £25 fee to access the service was too cheap as it encouraged unscrupulous passengers looking for a ‘windfall’ to try their luck.
He even hinted that Jet2 would have to hike ticket prices if it joined the scheme. In the CAA’s opinion, Jet2 had ‘inexplicably and persistently refused to sign up’, which was ‘extremely disappointing’.
When this newspaper questioned the airline’s stance in print, Meeson took the CAA to court, and is claiming reputational damage.
In taking the airline on, it would appear the regulator had not banked on a boss who is well-used to controversy and extended fights over flight compensation.
Meeson travelled around Europe with the Marlboro-sponsored flying aerobatics team and was crowned British champion five times
In a separate test case back in 2014, Jet2 tried to argue that airlines should not have to pay for delays caused by technical faults, responding to a £1,000 claim from a grandfather delayed for 27 hours.
A string of hearings took the case to the Court of Appeal, which ruled that compensation should be paid. Despite the crushing defeat, the CAA claimed Jet2 was still disputing paying compensation over technical faults a year later. The airline has tried to include a rule in its contract that passengers only have two years to claim, even though a judge ruled they have six.
A closer look at the man himself reveals a history of such dogged obstinacy. Meeson’s daughter Jemma has said he is ‘very focused and has very clear ideas’. These were, it would seem, the same clear ideas that led to his swift exit from the RAF after a bust-up with his bosses.
‘They wanted me to fly bombers,’ he said in 2013. ‘We had a row over that and I left. I was a bit cocky.’ The departure led to his first business venture – selling imported Citroen 2CVs on the King’s Road in west London – before he bought the Channel Express Group, which distributed Channel Islands-grown flowers to wholesale markets in the UK.
He developed the firm into a leisure travel provider and logistics operator, and floated it on the London Stock Exchange under a new name, Dart Group, in 1991 – where he still has a 38 per cent stake.
He launched the Leeds-based airline Jet2 in 2002 and his Jet2 holidays firm five years later. It now flies to more than 50 destinations which include Barcelona, Gran Canaria, New York and Reykjavik.
The impulsive streak that spelt his exit from the RAF was confirmed when, in 2009, the police were called after he launched a ’20-minute’ tirade at check-in staff at a 6.30am spot-check at Manchester Airport. Afterwards, floor worker Stuart Love, 27, quit his job in disgust and claimed the boss’s swearing had left three members of staff in tears.
Twice-divorced Meeson, who has been married to a former director of high IQ society Mensa and later a successful property developer, refused to apologise, saying he was ‘just passionate’. Many respect the former pilot, who has a small fleet of private planes and lives in a £2 million home in Knightsbridge, for his straight-talking cockiness and Meeson’s hard line has undoubtedly reaped rewards.
His 38 per cent stake in Dart has tripled in value since 2015 to £502 million, and he netted a £462,000 salary last year. This latest court battle is taking place well over a year beyond the events Meeson is disputing, and it is unclear when the judgment will be delivered.
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: ‘The airline risks throwing away its good reputation with this futile fight.’
Jet2 points out it has paid £32 million in compensation since 2004, and the CAA has made it clear the scheme is voluntary. The airline has said the companies adjudicating on the ‘complex’ delay claims are understaffed, produce inconsistent rulings and have underqualified staff.
It is seeking damages for what it sees as a zealous campaign to damage its reputation, a claim the CAA calls ‘completely unsubstantiated’ and ‘fanciful’. But whichever way the eventual judgment falls, investors and customers alike may be left questioning whether it was a fight Meeson and his company really needed.