Why it is easier to make a claim for delayed flights

EU law, upheld by UK courts, has significantly improved consumers’ chances of successfully claiming compensation for delayed flights. Here, Hayley Wharton explains how.

Greater protection for holidaymakers hit by flight disruption

Holidaymakers can get compensation for disrupted flights more easily thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that upheld EC Regulation 261/2004. This EU rule stipulates that passengers can claim compensation if their flight is delayed by more than three hours and the problem was caused by the airline.

There is also good news for holidaymakers with longstanding air-travel complaints. A second Supreme Court decision, against travel operator Thomson, means passengers can claim compensation for delays that happened as long as six years ago. Previously, Thomson had only been prepared to process claims up to a maximum period of two years.

Even though the UK has voted to leave the EU, we will remain a member for at least two years and possibly longer. Moreover, the late flight compensation rules would still apply if the UK was to leave the EU and join the European Economic Area (EEA) which includes Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

How the ‘aircraft fault’ loophole was closed

Airlines can only refuse to pay compensation if a flight is delayed or cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. In the past they have often argued that these circumstances include technical problems with aircraft.

However, the Supreme Court has made it clear that airlines must pay compensation for flights that have been disrupted by standard technical faults, including ‘manufacturing defects’.

Holidaymakers cannot always claim for flight disruption

The court rulings do not help holidaymakers seeking compensation for delayed or cancelled flights where genuine ‘extraordinary circumstances’ apply.

These include delays resulting from armed conflict or civil unrest, security problems, natural disasters, or weather conditions, as well as air traffic control restrictions, industrial action by airport staff, and medical emergencies. In short, you can’t claim compensation for a flight disruption that is beyond the control of the airline.

How does the system work?

Passengers departing from EU airports on any airline, or arriving at an EU airport on an EU carrier have a right to care and compensation resulting from a delayed arrival time of two hours or more. The airline is required to give you food and drink along with a way of communicating your delay, or a refund of the cost of any essential calls.

If you have to stay overnight, the airline must put you up in a hotel and provide transport there, or to your home. In cases of substantial disruption, you can arrange for your own accommodation and reclaim the cost. Receipts supporting any claim are vital.

Levels of compensation you may be entitled to

For delays of three hours or more, you can claim a cash payment of €250 for short flights and €400 for a flight distance of between 1,500 and 3,500km. If you are flying more than 3,500km you are entitled to €300 for a delay of three to four hours; and €600 for more than four hours.

For further advice on making a cash claim for a delayed flight, call Hayley Wharton on 0161 761 4611, or email her at hayley.wharton@whnsolicitors.co.uk