Opinion: Cook denied-boarding compensation ruling changes little

Opinion: Cook denied-boarding compensation ruling changes little

By Paula Macfarlane, senior solicitor, Abta

Last week there was widespread media coverage of a British court ruling relating to passengers’ compensation rights if their flight has been delayed, in this case due to technical problems. 

The British court ruling followed a European court ruling last October which confirmed that passengers can claim for compensation for flight delays over three hours in certain circumstances. 

Perhaps inevitably, the ruling has led to considerable media speculation about when and how consumers are entitled to compensation for flight delays, with many media outlets reporting that consumers would now be eligible to claim for millions of pounds of compensation.

In reality, while the case confirms the principle that compensation may be due for delays in certain circumstances, it does not change the fact that in the majority of instances compensation will not be due.  

Travel businesses may find that they are approached by customers who have seen the media coverage and want to know about their rights with regards to compensation.

We have prepared some detailed guidance for our members on this, as well as for consumers, to try to help explain the circumstances where passengers may be entitled to pursue a claim.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of passengers who have been delayed will not be eligible for compensation.

First and foremost, compensation is only eligible to delays over three hours, which account for less than 0.5% of all delayed flights according to the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol).

Secondly, compensation is only relevant when the EU Denied Boarding Regulations are applicable (i.e. the passenger must be travelling on an EU airline or when the delay affects a flight departing from the EU).

Thirdly, compensation is still not applicable when the delay is due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the airline’s actual control.

The definition of extraordinary circumstances is broad and the most common causes for a delay are likely to fall under this heading - for example, adverse weather conditions, risks to flight safety, strikes, some technical failures and airspace closures.

In these situations if the delay runs over five hours and the EU Denied Boarding Regulations apply, the passenger is entitled to a refund of the flight cost if they wish (the refund is of the flight cost only, not the holiday price if the flight is part of a package holiday).

We have produced detailed guidance on our Member zone on abta.com as well as an FAQ for consumers, also on our website, which we’d encourage you to direct any customers to if unsure of their rights.


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