High Court suspends airline pay-outs for delayed flights

The UK High Court has suspended the right of air passengers to compensation if they suffer a flight delay of three hours or more.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last November that passengers were entitled to compensation for delays. But following a challenge brought by British Airways, Tui Travel, easyJet and the International Air Transport Association, the High Court has referred the issue back to the European court.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “The High Court has stayed our enforcement powers so the courts won’t hear [compensation] cases in the interim.”

It is expected to be two years before the Court of Justice reviews the case.

Regulation EC 261/2004 introduced pan-European rules on passengers’ rights following flight delays, cancellations and denied boarding, but until last November passengers could not expect compensation for a delay.

Then the ECJ made its so-called ‘Sturgeon’ ruling, establishing that “passengers whose flights are delayed may be treated as passengers whose flights are cancelled . . . where they suffer a loss of time equal to or in excess of three hours”.

The issue was clouded by the fact that compensation would not apply if a delay was due to “extraordinary circumstances”. But the court ruled that technical problems would not normally qualify as extraordinary.

However, the UK Air Transport Users Council – which handles complaints by UK air travellers - noted in its annual report published last week: “Airlines told us in no uncertain terms that they thought the ruling was wrong and they would not pay.”

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