Flight delays cost EU airlines €4bn a year

KLM fails with compensation challenge

A passenger waiting at George Best Belfast City airport. A court ruling could help passengers being denied compensation for flight delays in the EU if there is a technical problem. Photograph: PA

A passenger waiting at George Best Belfast City airport. A court ruling could help passengers being denied compensation for flight delays in the EU if there is a technical problem. Photograph: PA

 

Few experiences are more boring or frustrating than hanging around an airport waiting for a flight that’s been delayed by several hours. For those travelling for business reasons, their time is money and delays, irrespective of who is to blame, are likely to cost them or their employers.

Thus, some sound reasons underpin an EU regulation requiring airlines to compensate by up to €600 passengers delayed from reaching their final destination by three hours or more. The total compensation bill for such delays in the EU runs to €4 billion a year, so it is not surprising airlines try to avoid paying.

KLM was the latest carrier to try, and fail, to defend a legal action taken on foot of the regulation. Corina Van der Lans sought compensation after her flight from Quito, in Ecuador, to Amsterdam was delayed by 29 hours because the aircraft had two defective components. Replacements had to be flown from Europe.

KLM maintained the problem fell under the “extraordinary circumstances” defence, as it was unforeseen and would not have been detected during routine maintenance checks. The European Court of Justice did not buy this and said “extraordinary circumstances” mean outside an airline’s control and do not include technical problems.

The case copperfastens the rights contained in the EU regulation. However, it would be no surprise were another airline to attempt to at least narrow its scope, as the the compensation bill for delays caused by technical problems alone is thought to run to about €1.2 billion a year.

Interestingly, while Van der Lans had to go all the way to the European Court of Justice to get compensation, many passengers are not even aware of their rights in this regard and do not take the first step in enforcing them, let alone go all the way to Europe.

Airhelp, a company that makes its money from aiding people in claiming this compensation, says millions go uncollected every year as a result of travellers not knowing their rights. The Van der Lans case looks like it could change that, as the ruling got plenty of media attention when it was delivered earlier this week.

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