ECJ ruling on flight delays: Consumer champion warns against third-party claim firms

European Court of Justice rules on airline delay compensation

Decision in favour of passengers follows last year’s similar ruling by the Supreme Court

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) this morning ruled that airline passengers can claim compensation for delays caused by technical faults. You could be forgiven for thinking that this rule has already been passed last year. It was in fact the Supreme Court in the UK.

In October 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that consumers had 6 years to claim compensation for delays and upheld the ruling regarding that technical difficulties are not “extraordinary circumstances” for the purposes of a compensation claim [1]. The Dutch airline KLM had tried to argue that spontaneous technical issues are “extraordinary circumstances” and many cases have been on hold whilst the case was appealed at the ECJ.

The ruling demonstrates how poor the regulation is: so many claim cases around the EU have had to go to court, to the Supreme Court in the UK and now the European Court of Justice. Well-written regulation should shape the minimum standards and compensation rules but they have not been clear enough which has led to confusion and legal cases. Reform of the regulation is underway in Brussels, but progress has stalled due to disagreements between member states.

An increase in the already large number of compensation claims is now inevitable.

Helen Dewdney consumer campaigner and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! whilst welcoming another win for consumers says that, in her opinion, compensation should not be a set amount for each claim, it should be a percentage of the ticket price. She says:

“In some cases the compensation will be higher than the price of the ticket which is ridiculous and will result in only one thing, an increase in prices.” She also warns of the increase in number of no-win no-fee organisations claiming on behalf of people who have been delayed. “There is nothing that an organisation or lawyer can do regarding delayed or denied boarding that a consumer cannot do themselves and get 100% of the compensation figure (which varies on length of flight and delay).” (For details on what you need to know to claim compensation see here.)

Notes to editors:
[1] The decisions made in the Huzar v Jet2 and Dawson v Thomson cases confirmed that routine technical difficulties are not extraordinary circumstances. Ron Huzar was delayed for 27 hours on a Malaga to Manchester flight. The delay had been caused by faulty wiring and Jet2 had claimed that this was unforeseen and categorised as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. In the Dawson v Thomson case, James Dawson was claiming for an eight-hour delay on a flight to the Dominican Republic in 2006; his claim was made in 2012. The airline refused to pay, citing the Montreal Convention, which limits claims to two years after an incident. On October 31st 2014 the Supreme Court upheld the rulings at appeal. Delays caused by technical problems cannot be categorised as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances and not liable for compensation and consumers have up to six years after the flight to make qualifying compensation claims. A judge in Liverpool county court threw out applications on the 25th February 2015 by Jet2, Ryanair, Flybe and Wizz Air to keep claims on hold until a case in Holland about technical delays (Van dear Kans v KLM) was decided. He stated that cases should be settled in line with existing passenger-rights rules.

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