Ruling paves way for €1.2bn in claims from air travellers

European Court of Justice bolsters consumer rights in KLM case

Irish and other European travellers could gain almost €1.2 billion in compensation from airlines for delayed and disrupted flights, following a court ruling on Thursday.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that Dutch carrier, KLM, could not claim that unforeseeable technical problems excused it from paying flight disruption compensation to passengers.

A ruling for KLM would have cut off EU passengers from claiming up to €1.18 billion in flight disruption compensation payments every year.

Under EU regulations, passengers who experience delays of three hours or more in getting to their final destination are entitled to claim up to £440 (€600) from airline unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

Airlines are liable for around €4 billion in claims in total across the EU every year. The amount due passengers for delays caused by technical problems comes to around €1.18 billion.

In Van der Lans v KLM, the airline tried to claim that the regulation does not cover delays caused by technical problems that cannot be detected during routine maintenance.

However, the ECJ ruled that, as airlines know technical problems occur frequently before take off, they cannot be considered unforeseeable or extraordinary circumstances.

According to Airhelp, a company that aids travellers in filing claims for flight disruption compensation, the ruling further underpins consumers’ rights.

Its chief of legal, Christian Nielsen, said that the ECJ had set an important precedent.

Airhelp’s country manager for Ireland, Brian Whelan, explained that the ruling confirms the position that the “extraordinary circumstances” have to be outside an airline’s control.

“The onus is still on the airline to show that,” he said. Mr Whelan added that if the court had found in KLM’s favour, carriers would be able to claim that virtually all delays were down to unforeseeable technical problems. “It would have given them a very convenient figleaf,” he noted.

Van der Lans’s victory follows a similar ruling by the UK Supreme Court in the Huzar Travel case last October, which found that technical problems are not extraordinary circumstances.

KLM unsuccessfully argued that the technical problems in this case were “spontaneous” and thus outside the airline’s control.