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Am I entitled to compensation for a delayed flight?
Supreme Court rejects airlines’ appeals against paying out
Floodgates opened to thousands of claims – even up to six years old
Even if you aren’t due payout, airlines must safeguard your welfare
But judgment will lead to higher airfares for all
After a series of court cases in 2012, 2013 and 2014, last week brought a landmark pair of rulings in the Supreme Court on the attempt by the UK airlines Jet2 and Thomson Airways to avoid paying compensation to customers when technical problems delayed their aircraft.
The court rejected the airlines’ request to appeal against earlier rulings, forcing them to pay out.
Now, after years of battles, the floodgates are potentially open to thousands more claims from consumers against the airlines. Claims up to six years old could still be valid for payouts.
Good news for some – but higher fares?
The Supreme Court rulings will be good news for some individual travellers inconvenienced by delayed flights but it may also lead to all passengers paying higher fares as the carriers attempt to recover losses following on from the court’s decision.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which governs airlines in the UK, quickly released a statement at the end of last week clarifying matters for consumers.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: “We acknowledge airlines’ concerns about the proportionality of the flight delay regulations and recognise that airfares may increase as a result. However, the court’s decisions in these cases bring legal clarity to this issue and we now expect airlines to abide by them when considering claims.”
Airlines told to stop putting cases on hold
The CAA’s position is also important for anyone who has made a claim for flight delay compensation but is waiting for a decision pending the outcome from the Supreme Court. Following the decisions in the cases of Jet2 and Thomson, airlines should no longer continue to delay action on claims.
The CAA expects airlines to revisit any cases it had put on hold and pay out for any eligible claims.
So if your flight is delayed, what compensation might you be entitled to, and how would you now go about claiming it?
Our handy guide simplifies your legal rights.
What are the crucial rulings on flight delays?
On January 28 2013, a UK judge ruled that Jeff and Joyce Halsell were entitled to €800 (around £625) in compensation and legal costs after their flight from Tenerife to the East Midlands was delayed due to a mechanical fault.
Previously the Halsells’ airline, Thomas Cook, had claimed that “extraordinary circumstances” beyond its control had delayed the flight and consequently turned down the claim. However, the judge ruled that the mechanical failure did not fall into this category, and Thomas Cook had to pay out.
A few days later, on January 31, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Denise McDonagh was indeed entitled to €1,130 in compensation to cover her welfare expenses (food, refreshments and accommodation) when her Ryanair flight was cancelled as a result of the 2010 Icelandic volcano ash cloud.
This was a test case over whether airlines had to pay “reasonable costs” to cover passengers’ welfare even if the cause of their delayed flight was extraordinary circumstances such as the ash cloud.
In another critical judgment, in June 2014 in the case of Jet2 vs Huzar, the Court of Appeal had ruled that ordinary technical problems such as component failure and general mechanical wear and tear that caused flight delays, cancellations or other disruptions to passengers’ journeys should not be considered “extraordinary circumstances”. It was Jet2’s attempt to appeal against this ruling that the Supreme Court rejected last week.
So, what do these legal rulings mean for you?
My flight is delayed – does my airline have to look after me?
If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight is delayed by more than two hours, your airline may have to offer you a “welfare package” including food, drinks, two phone calls and, if you are delayed overnight, accommodation plus transport to and from where you are staying.
When your airline is obliged to offer you this welfare package depends on the distance you are travelling in kilometres. The table below outlines your rights:
Length of delay before you are entitled to assistance
|0 – 1,500km (eg Manchester to Frankfurt)||More than two hours|
|1,500 – 3,500km (eg Newcastle to Majorca)||More than three hours|
|3,500km + (eg London to Delhi)||More than four hours|
If your airline does not offer to provide the welfare package itself – for example, in the form of meal vouchers or by booking accommodation for you – talk to a representative at the airport to find out what they consider “reasonable costs” and get an agreement that you can sort out your own welfare.
If you do arrange your own accommodation or buy meals, keep all of your receipts to make claiming back any costs you have incurred as easy as possible.
What about compensation – a cash payout? – for a delayed flight?
If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late, you may be entitled to financial compensation of up to €600 under the EU261 rules.
But what are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?
“Extraordinary circumstances”, according to EU261, are those deemed to be outside the airline’s control and which, even if the airline had taken reasonable measures, would have delayed the flight. They include extreme weather such as snow, acts of nature such as the volcanic ash cloud in 2010 and strikes.
The case on January 28 2013 ruled that technical faults with an aircraft do not necessarily count as extraordinary circumstances and that passengers could push for clarification as to whether the fault that caused their delay was within the airline’s control.
The June 2014 case went further in making airlines responsible for technical problems that cause flight delays – a ruling finalised in the Supreme Court’s rejection in late 2014 of Jet2 and Thomson Airways’ requests to appeal.
It is important to remember, however, that even if a long delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances and you are not therefore entitled to compensation, your airline must look after you and offer a welfare package.
How much compensation can I claim?
As with welfare packages, the compensation you’re entitled to is determined by the length of your flight and how long the delay is. The table below outlines the different levels of compensation you can claim following a flight delay.
|Length of flight||Delay to destination||Compensation due|
|Up to 1,500km||More than 3 hours||€250|
|1,500km to 3500km||More than 3 hours||€400|
|More than 3,500km||More than 3 hours but less than 4 hours||€300|
|More than 3,500km||More than 4 hours||€600|
How do I claim compensation?
You should first talk to your airline and find out what caused the delay. Make a note of all of the details so you can be clear on the facts at a later date, and keep your tickets as well as any relevant receipts.
You should then follow the procedure as advised by the CAA.
When you are ready to claim, go to the airline’s website to find out how best to contact it. British Airways, for example, has an online form for customers to fill in but also provides a postal address for letters. The CAA also has advice on what information to include when communicating with an airline.
If you are communicating by post, the CAA’s site has a downloadable letter template to make the process as simple as possible.
Should I use a claims company?
You might be tempted to use a claims company to smooth your claim but, as with third parties offering to help with PPI compensation, these firms charge a fee for their services and are entirely unnecessary for most passengers in claiming compensation.
The claims process is straightforward, so why part with any of the sum you are due?
The CAA’s passenger portal should help to resolve any problems.
I’ve previously made a claim for compensation/welfare but haven’t received anything – what should I do?
The October 2014 court ruling, and the cases leading up to it, help to clarify your rights to compensation. So, if your airline has refused to pay out, citing causes you suspect do not fall within the category of extraordinary circumstances, you could contact it stating that you would like to pursue your claim, as in the case of Jet2 vs Huzar.
If you’d like to pursue an old claim for the reimbursement of welfare costs – for example, when flights were grounded across Europe as a consequence of the Icelandic ash cloud or even an earlier incident – again you could contact your airline stating that, in light of the McDonagh vs Ryanair case, you would like to claim your expenses back.
It is important to be aware, however, that to pursue your claim you will need copies of your original letters and/or receipts.
What are my rights if my delayed flight is with a non-EU airline?
As the EU261 rules only protect passengers travelling with an EU airline or out of an EU airport, you won’t have exactly the same rights. Instead, check the policy of the airline you are travelling with.
TravelSupermarket’s top tips
- Check your rights while you are on the move by downloading the European Commission’s app called Your Passenger Rights.
- In the event of any delay or cancellation, talk to your airline for guidance on why you have been delayed and how to claim your welfare package – don’t spend anything yourself that you expect to get back without clarifying it with your airline.
- To make a successful claim, keep all relevant receipts as well as your tickets, and write down as many details as possible at the time of your delay so you don’t forget any key facts.
- Always take out a travel insurance policy that includes protection for travel delays to cover you for any extra costs you may incur – such as not being able to turn up to your booked accommodation.
For more advice on delayed flights and to find out your rights if your flight is cancelled, read our article Delayed or cancelled flight? Know your rights!