Europe’s airlines suffered a blow in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with a landmark ruling that passengers are due compensation for delays to connecting flights beyond the EU.

The ECJ ruled on Thursday that EU airlines selling tickets to destinations beyond the EU on non-EU partner carriers must still compensate passengers if there is a significant delay to a flight.

The ruling marks a significant extension of EU Regulation 261 on air passenger rights, which entitles customers to compensation for delays of more than three hours.

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The regulation has not previously been applied to flights wholly outside the EU, but only to flights departing or arriving in Europe.

The ECJ judgment came in case involving 11 passengers booked with Czech Airlines to fly from Prague to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi aboard a connecting flight with Etihad Airways.

The Czech Airlines flight operated on time. But the Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi arrived eight hours late and the passengers sought compensation.

Czech Airlines argued it could not be held responsible for another carrier’s operation.

But the court ruled: “A flight with one or more connections which is the subject of a single reservation constitutes a whole for the purposes of the right of passengers to compensation provided for in the regulation.”

However, the court did rule the EU carrier could sue its airline partner Etihad “to obtain redress”.

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