Retired business teacher uses new EU ruling to win flight delay compensation


A ruling by the European Court of Justice in October 2012 has opened the gateway for holidaymakers who experience delays to their flights to claim compensation from airlines.

Delayed Flights Ruined Holiday

Last October, the European Court of Justice agreed that delays which might result from lack of airline staff or technical problems with an aircraft could be eligible for compensation.

A court in Staffordshire last week became the first to use the ruling, when a couple claimed compensation from Thomas Cook after a flight home from Tenerife to the UK, was delayed by 22 hours.

Jeff and Joyce Halsall from Kidsgrove in Staffordshire took Thomas Cook to court in 2009 and the couple’s claim was initially unsuccessful as Thomas Cook claimed the delay was due to “extraordinary circumstances”, as the flight on 31 October 2009 had been delayed by mechanical problems.

However, EU legislation now enables holidaymakers to claim between £200 and £480 if a flight is delayed for more than three hours and 58-year-old Mr Halsall used this legislation to win compensation from Thomas Cook.

On 28 January the couple were awarded £680 (€800) in holiday compensation at Stoke-on-Trent County Court, including legal expenses.

The Civil Aviation Authority said that Mr Halsall’s case appeared to be the first successful claim in the UK since the EU ruling in October last year.

Under the ruling, airlines must pay compensation except in “extraordinary circumstances” such as the volcanic ash which in 2010 grounded flights across Europe.

Internal EU flights of less than 930 miles attract £210 (€250) in compensation, while flights of more than 930 miles and less than 1,860 miles – but still within the EU – attract £330(€400).

Any other flights attract £500 (€600) in compensation provided they depart or enter the EU and are on EU-based airlines, including Swiss airports and Swiss airlines, as outlined in Regulation (EC) 261/2004.

The regulations originally covered compensation for passengers denied the right to board or cancelled flights, but the October 2012 ruling by the European Court of Justice extended this to flight delays of more than three hours.

Mr Halsall is a retired economics and business teacher – and commenting after the case last week he said:

“I am delighted to have won my legal case and I certainly hope passengers who were fobbed off over the past five years can now claim back what is owed to them.

”It doesn’t matter how much people pay for their flight, everyone is entitled to this. People probably think they have to go to court to do this but they don’t, all they need to do is write to their airline.”

Thomas Cook said that it had already offered more compensation to Mr and Mrs Halsall than the sum they were awarded by the court and added:

“We always look at claims such as this fairly and make every effort to resolve complaints without the need for a court hearing.”

There are concerns that the EU ruling – and the success of what is thought to be the first UK case involving compensation being paid under it – may actually push up airfares. However, if all the passengers of one EU aircraft delayed for more than three hours claimed compensation, the bill could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds for just one delayed flight.

But the ruling does mean airlines can still reject compensation claims if delays are caused by extraordinary circumstances or are beyond the airline’s control, such as exceptionally poor or unexpected weather conditions.

But the regulations set out a duty of care by airlines to accommodate passengers who face long delays and provide meals and refreshments, as well as transport between the airport and any accommodation provided.

Holidaymakers whose claim is refused by an airline on the grounds of “exceptional circumstances” should contact the Civil Aviation Authority or contact Simpson Millar for further help.

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