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Court of Appeal ruling over flight delays could prove costly for airlines

July 24th, 2014

For the approximately 230 million people in the UK each year who use air travel (source: Civil Aviation Authority), many of whom will be jetting off to enjoy their holidays this summer, the visit to the airport can be an arduous affair. No doubt we have all experienced the nightmare of turning up for your flight to learn that it has been delayed, or worse, cancelled. And although this is something we may expect to live with, the consequences of such could be costly for the airline companies.

One area of law which has caught many peoples interest in and out of the legal profession has undoubtedly been the Denied Boarding Regulations, implemented by the European-Union into every member states’ laws. Until now, the Regulations have given protection to airline passengers whose flights were cancelled or delayed, unless the airlines could show that it was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. However, a Court of Appeal decision earlier this month has clarified the meaning of these exemptions further, much to the advantage of consumers.

 

What are the Denied Boarding Regulations?

The Regulations were introduced in 2004 which entitled passengers to be compensation by airline companies where a flight had been cancelled, unless the airline could show that the cancellation had been caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. There are several examples of these, such as severe weather or staff strikes. Certainly, these circumstances have been the focus of much debate, with many airlines naturally applying them as broadly as possible. The Regulations apply to any flight departing out of an EU Member State or to an airline carrier who operate within the European Union.

Within Article 5 & 6 of the Regulations, it set out that in the event of a cancellation or delay, an airline must provide assistance and care to its passengers, such as providing meals and refreshments and in some cases hotel accommodation, free of charge. In addition, Article 7 specifically goes on to outline the fixed amounts of compensation that are payable.

Originally, Article 7 only applied to the cancellation of flights. However, in the case of Sturgeon v Condor the European Courts of Justice decided that delayed flights would also amount to an entitlement for compensation, not just to cancellations. In reaction, several airline carriers took issue with this and so it was further explored by the European Union. In considering the issue, they determined that a delay, for the purposes of being entitled to compensation under Article 7, meant where a passenger arrives at the destination they were travelling to three hours or more later than had intended. As such, the liability to airlines was widened and a redress was open for any passengers who experienced significant delays as well.

Article 7 of the Regulations says that compensation is payable in the following terms:

(a) 250 euros for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;

(b) 400 euros for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;

(c) 600 euros for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

Nevertheless, should the airline be able to show that such a delay or cancellation has been caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken” then compensation would not be required to be paid, under the rights given under the Regulations.

 

Further Developments

Until recently, one of the main “extraordinary circumstances” for delays or cancellations which airlines had been able to successfully argue was down to ‘technical problems’. It isn’t hard to imagine being told this whilst waiting at the airport or sat on your plane ready for take-off – the term can be commonly and loosely used.

However, a landmark Court of Appeal judgment this month has been handed down in the case of Huzar v Jet2.com which specifically determined that a delay caused by ‘technical problems’ no longer fell within the criteria of an ‘extraordinary circumstances’. The passenger in the case was successful in arguing that he was entitled to compensation where there had been a wiring defect to the plane which caused it to be delayed for over 24 hours. Mr Huzar had been travelling from the UK to Spain when the delay occurred.

The Court of Appeal, in coming to their decision, remarked that a technical problem was not out of the ordinary and was within the airline’s control. As a result, Mr Huzar was entitled to compensation for the delayed flight under the Denied Boarding Regulations. For airlines and consumers alike, more importantly, this has signalled the potential for claims to be made in these circumstances, which were not permitted before. Certainly, the ability to make a claim for delays has been further extended, to the benefit of airline passengers.

This development will no doubt have caused further worry and concern to airline carriers across the European Union, as a potential influx of claims could now be triggered. Contrastingly, this will also come as welcome news to the many holiday goers this summer, who may very well experience unforeseeable delays or cancellations to their flight plans, which inevitably may occur.

 

Should you experience any delays or cancellations with your flying arrangements and redress with your airline is not satisfactorily, contact Andrew King by emailing hello@lennonssolicitors.co.uk.

Disclaimer
This article is for guidance purposes only and is not to be relied upon as legal advice. It offers guidance on the Denied Boarding Regulations in general terms and should be considered as a guidance note solely.

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