Delayed passengers are entitled to payouts. Photograph: David Levene for the Observer
Airline passengers could be entitled to billions of pounds’ worth of compensation, depending on the outcome of two flight delay cases at the court of appeal next month.
Rules state that passengers who reach their destination more than three hours late can claim up to €600 (£494) plus expenses, per person, if the delay is within the airline’s control. However thousands of passengers have struggled to get the cash they are entitled to, with airlines often refusing to pay out even when the regulator rules against them. While most customers give up at this point, some have gone to court.
James Dawson submitted a claim for compensation in December 2012 for a delay on his Gatwick flight to the Dominican Republic just under six years earlier. A Cambridge county court judge ruled in his favour and he and his wife were awarded £975 in compensation, plus interest. However, the airline, Thomson, is hoping to overturn this on appeal. It argues that it has the right to refuse payouts for claims not brought to court within two years of the delay under the Montreal convention – which is typically used to cover passengers in cases of lost baggage or harm suffered during a flight rather than delays.
Flight delay claims are currently subject to the UK’s statute of limitations, which allows claims to date back six years. If Thomson’s appeal fails, then it is expected that many passengers who had their claims rejected by airlines for being too old will resubmit them. Over the past 10 years, air passengers have failed to claim £3.2bn owed to them in compensation, according to passenger rights specialist Refund.me.
The second case involves a claim by Ronald Huzar against Jet2.com for a flight in 2011 which was brought to court in 2013. It was refused because the airline cited “extraordinary circumstances”, saying there was an unforeseen technical problem that meant it did not have to pay compensation. Typically, “extraordinary circumstances” refers to poor weather or political unrest, and it is hoped the ruling in this case will clarify the strength of this common reason used to refuse a payout.
Kevin Clarke, an aviation lawyer at Bott & Co, representing Dawson and Huzar, said: “The cases will bring some much needed clarity to the flight compensation process here in the UK. We welcome the judgments and the guidance they will bring for consumers over how long they have to bring a flight delay claim, and the instances when a flight delay is or isn’t claimable.
We strongly hope these cases will signal the dawn of better service for air passengers in the UK, and a smoother process when things do go wrong.”
The law for flight delay compensation applies to any flight leaving an EU airport and any flight into Europe on an EU–based airline. Since rules were clarified in October 2012, the number of consumers making claims to the Civil Aviation Authority for flight delays has soared. It received 23,440 claims for compensation in the 12 months to March 2014, up from 6,028 in the previous year.
Martin Lewis, creator of the website Moneysavingexpert.com, said: “Some airlines are clearly playing hardball here, even though the law is pretty plain. It’s no coincidence that there are huge discrepancies between the success rates of different airlines.”
A poll of more than 3,000 people carried out by the website last yearfound Jet2, Thomson and Ryanair are accused of being the worst offenders, with respectively only 2%, 8% and 10% of claims being upheld in the consumer’s favour.
Sourced from The Guardian