Landmark compensation case for flight delays and cancellations

19 Jun 2013

A landmark ruling by the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that passengers can claim compensation for flights delayed not as a result of a fault by the airline.

Cast your mind back to April 2010, the 14th to be precise. What started out as a run-of-the-mill day ended with what was to become an 8 day nightmare for holiday makers and which brought silence to the skies of Europe. What happened?

The Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull erupted.

The eruption resulted in such severe ash cloud descending across Europe that airspace over a number of EU countries, including the UK was closed because of the risks to aircraft.

The ash cloud saw the disruption and cancellation of 111,000 flights, affecting 10 million passenger journeys. In fact the UK saw a 90% reduction in air traffic in April over 5 consecutive days.

Claiming compensation for a delayed flight up until now has been pretty cut – the airline will compensate you if the cause of the delay or cancellation was the airlines fault. Bad weather, industrial action and security issues were not under the scope for the airline to reimburse affected passengers.

This has now changed thanks to the case of Denise McDonagh from Ireland whose Faro to Dublin flight on the 17th April 2010 was cancelled due to the volcano erupting and the ash cloud. Ms McDonagh asked for £942.00 in damaged from airline Ryanair to cover the extra cost of meals, refreshments, transport and accommodation, all of which she had to cover whilst awaiting a flight to take her back home.

Ryanair refused, claiming that the ash cloud went beyond extraordinary circumstances and the airline was therefore exempt from refunding passengers in circumstances similar to these.

The decision in favour of Ms McDonagh was upheld by the EU court of justice, with the court stating that it did not recognise a separate category of “particularly extraordinary events, beyond extraordinary circumstances and that all airlines must provide care to passengers when flights are cancelled”.

This is an important ruling as it applies to airlines across the EU and in effect imposes upon airlines a duty of care to affected passengers. This duty includes meals, necessary accommodation and airport transfers.

The ruling by the court also states that:

“All the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing. The court states that the provision of care to passengers is particularly important in the case of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which persist over a long time and it is precisely in situations where the waiting period occasioned by the cancellation of a flight is particularly lengthy that it is necessary to ensure that throughout that period.”

The ruling, which Ryanair have publicly said is unfair and will only result in higher prices for consumers is the second positive ruling dealing with flight delays compensation. A judge in Staffordshire awarded a couple £680.00 after their Thomas Cook flight was delayed in 2009. This case is believed to be the first time a judge has made a ruling based on EU legislation that entitles individuals to £480.00 plus expenses when a flight is delayed by more than three hours.

Stuart Kightleypersonal injury lawyer at Osbornes comments:

“Everyone looks forward to going on holiday, however sometimes this is ruined for reasons completely beyond the control of the holiday maker. I have represented people whose holidays have been completely ruined after getting sick or being injured on holiday, either in the hotel, as part of the package deal or on route to or from the hotel. Happily however we have been able to help these ones receive adequate financial compensation helping to soften the blow of a ruined holiday”.

If you have suffered an injury or accident on holiday contact our expert claims compensation solicitors to find out if you are eligible to make a ‘no win no fee’compensation claim.

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Written by Stuart Kightley

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