Cancelled and delayed flights - your compensation rights

(29/10/2014) In such a competitive market, airlines strive to cut costs to provide cheaper flights. That’s great news for your pocket, but an industry operating on such tight margins means that when something goes wrong it can go badly wrong!

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The current system of airline compensation was developed by the European Union to try and ensure that airlines don’t leave us high and dry, but sadly it’s still a grey area. Michael’s issue is an example of that.

Michael’s case 

Michael recently contacted me, as he was having trouble resolving an issue with his airline. The main problem was the charges on cancelled flights. His assertion was that these were unreasonable, especially as he was rebooking the flights with the same company.

Michael took the airline to court and won - they did not even bother turning up and he was awarded £175 plus expenses. You can clearly take poorly behaving airlines to task, then, but few of us can spare the time and effort required to follow these cases through. So what are the alternatives?

Delayed flight compensation

In 2004, the European Union introduced a regulation that changed the shape of the airline industry; if your fight was more than three hours late and if certain other criteria were met, you were entitled to compensation.

500 flights a month

There are more than 500 flights a month for which passengers could theoretically claim compensation and, with a typical plane having 180-200 passengers on board, that means there could be 100,000 passengers with the right to claim compensation. A typical compensation figure is £300, so passengers could be claiming £30 million a month - yet only 25% of fliers bother to complain. Are you one of those missing out?

When can you claim?

There are some basic rules:
  • Rule 1: the flight must be delayed by more than three hours, the delay has to be compared to the time the flight is meant to arrive and not the time that it takes off 
  • Rule 2: the flight must take off from the UK or European Union or, if it’s an international flight into the UK/EU, it must be a UK or European airline and the flight must be longer than 3,500km 
  • Rule 3: the issue must be within the control of the airline

What does ‘within the control of the airline’ mean?

This is where it starts to get interesting. The 2004 EU regulations state that no compensation would be awarded to passengers if:

“The cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.”

The airlines have argued that most things are outside of their control. Typical issues outside an airline’s control include poor weather, air traffic control strikes, or another airline’s plane breaking down and causing delays to their flight.

Issues within the control of the airline could include flight crews or planes not being available, flights cancelled due to under-booking, or failing to submit proper documentation to the relevant aviation authority.

Technical maintenance, the hot potato

Technical maintenance is the biggest grey area, however. This has been a classic line used by airlines for delays that they could not control. Airlines have argued that serious technical faults that cause a delay or cancellation should count as “extraordinary circumstances”.

This was taken as gospel until a passenger called Huzar took Jet2 to court. The Court of Appeal held in Huzar’s favour in May this year. They concluded that difficult technical problems arose as a matter course in the ordinary operation of the airlines and that these are normal in the exercise of the carrier’s activity.

With this precedent, carriers will find it very difficult to cite technical faults as a reason for not paying out compensation for a delayed flight. At the moment, Jet2 is appealing the decision.

What could the impact be?

If this case in the final appeal is held in Huzar’s favour, then a floodgate will be opened.

If the case is held in the consumer’s favour, then we estimate the industry could have to pay out £650 million. In England and Wales, you have a right to claim for up to six years (five years in Scotland).

How much can you claim?

If your flight is delayed, what can you claim in compensation?

  • If the flight is less than 1,500km and the flight is more than three hours late, then you can claim €250 (around £200) 
  • If the flight is between 1,500 and 3,000Km and the flight is more than three hours late, then you can claim €400 (around £315)
  • If the flight is more than 3,000km and leaving the EU, or is a EU airline flying into the UK and is between three and four hours late, then you could get back €300 (around £240). If it is more than four hours late, then you could expect up to €600 (around £480).

If you are struggling to claim compensation, then submit your issue via www.resolver.co.uk for free . You could use a claims management company (CMC), but they would charge you between 15% and 30% of your compensation for handling the claim and I believe this is wrong – a CMC should be your last resort.

If the airline rejects your issue, then you can send your case to the Civil Aviation Authority, which can assess your complaint and provide comment on whether or not the airline should pay out. Only then should you consider a claims management company.

Next time: Best returns policies for Christmas.

Pic: Bernal Saborio

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