Flight delay compensation mess continues, as airlines find new excuses to reject claims despite passenger victory

By Victoria Bischoff,

Airlines are finding new excuses to reject compensation claims for flight delays, despite a legal victory for passengers last year.

Money Mail can reveal that four budget carriers — Flybe, Jet2, Ryanair and WizzAir — have asked a judge for permission to put claims on hold until the European Court of Justice rules on a case going through the Dutch courts.

Meanwhile, in a further setback for travellers who thought they would get a payout after suffering long delays, airlines have been caught trying a fresh tactic to wriggle out of compensation.

Finding excuses? Airlines are finding new excuses to reject compensation claims for flight delays, despite a legal victory for passengers last year

Rather than admit to a technical fault for which they would have to pay out, passengers have received letters explaining their delay was due to a ‘hidden manufacturing defect’.

Others claim they are simply being ignored by airlines, which refuse to reply to letters.

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to up to £465 in compensation when their flight lands at their destination more than three hours late — unless the delay is caused by an extraordinary circumstance, such as bad weather or crew strikes.

Previously, airlines routinely refused to pay out for delays caused by a technical fault, claiming they counted as extraordinary events. Last year, two landmark Supreme Court rulings, which followed a six-year legal battle, opened the floodgates for two million holidaymakers to make claims.

The court declared that carriers should pay out when a delay was caused by a technical fault. It was thought this could leave the airlines with a bill of around £3.89billion for cases dating back six years.

But since the rulings last October, complaints have continued to pour into Money Mail’s postbag from travellers whose airlines will still not offer compensation. Airline regulator the Civil Aviation Authority has received 2,500 complaints since then.

And figures from EUclaim, which helps passengers with compensation cases in return for a fee, says its caseload has quadrupled since the court verdicts.

‘This is due to the increased passenger awareness of the regulation and the continued refusal of the airlines to adhere to these rules,’ says Adeline Noorderhaven, spokesperson for EUclaim.

It was thought that thousands of claims put on hold by airlines would be dealt with following the Supreme Court’s decision.

But now Jet2, Flybe, WizzAir and Ryanair are saying these claims should be stayed yet again, pending the outcome of the case in Holland, according to flight compensation experts at Bott & Co.

In Van der Lans v KLM, the Dutch airline is challenging whether a technical fault can count as an extraordinary circumstance. If KLM wins, it will be relieved of its responsibility to pay compensation.

A test case due to be heard at Liverpool County Court next month will decide whether or not airlines can put cases on hold until the outcome of the Van der Lans case.

Experts at EUClaim say the ECJ is getting tired of questions regarding Regulation 261/2004.

The court ruled in August that airlines can no longer claim that an aircraft being struck by mobile stairs or a bridge at an airport is an extraordinary circumstance.

Airlines are also being accused of fiddling with the wording they use to describe technical defects caused by the premature failure of parts. The courts have confirmed this is not a valid defence.

But passengers and lawyers have reported seeing airlines describe the exact same incident as a so-called ‘hidden manufacturing defect’. This, the airlines say, qualifies as an extraordinary circumstance and so they don’t need to pay out.

Richard and Margaret Rose, from Cheshire, were delayed for nine hours on their way home from a one-week holiday in Madeira. When the couple checked in, they were informed the flight was delayed due to a fuel leak.

Richard and Margaret Rose: 'They just kept pushing back our departure time without telling us anything'

They were given vouchers for food and drink and had to wait in the departure lounge.

Richard, 67, a retired lawyer, says: ‘They just kept pushing back our departure time without telling us anything.’

It wasn’t until a year later that the couple discovered they could claim compensation for the delay. They wrote to Jet2, but their claim was turned down.

In a letter on March 25, 2013, the airline said: ‘On investigation, extraordinary circumstances led to the delay of your flight. More specifically, the delay was caused by an unexpected flight safety shortcoming.’

The Roses thought that was it — until they heard about the court ruling in October confirming technical faults do not count as an extraordinary circumstance. They wrote again to Jet2.

This time, the airline replied: ‘We conclude the delay to your flight was the result of extraordinary circumstances. More specifically, your delay was caused by a hidden manufacturing defect.’

A spokesperson for Jet2 says: ‘The Van Der Lans case has been referred by the Dutch court to the ECJ and raises similar questions to those raised in the UK case, which the Supreme Court elected not to refer to the ECJ.

‘As this is an EC regulation, it is appropriate for us to await the ECJ’s decision before we fully assess claims for compensation.’

A spokesperson for the CAA says: ‘Unfortunately, some airlines are continuing to place these claims on hold, which means a further delay for passengers.

‘Some county courts have allowed airlines to place claims on hold, some have not and others are still considering the issue. We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to provide advice to passengers.’

David Bott, senior partner at Bott & Co, said: ‘The airlines’ main gripe is that flight compensation will lead to increased costs. That myth has already been debunked by the European Commission who has shown that if everybody who could claim flight compensation did claim, it would only amount to €2.50 extra on the price of a ticket.

‘Airlines have the clarity they need and it strikes me that their time and money would be better spent paying genuine claims promptly rather than running legal arguments which 10 years of judgments have shown will almost certainly fail.’

Sourced by Money Mail

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