New EU ruling on airline compensationTechnical Fault compensation for cancelled flights

24 December 2008

travel airport queues

Travellers could face extensive delays

Airlines can no longer blame technical problems for flight cancellations, EU judges have ruled.

Technical problems that cause cancellations are often cited by airlines as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and therefore beyond their control. 

If airlines use ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as the reason for a cancellation they are under no obligation to compensate passengers.

Alitalia case

But in a landmark case, brought against Alitalia by an Austrian family, European Court of Justice judges ruled: ‘Technical problems which come to light during maintenance of aircraft or on account of failure to carry out such maintenance do not constitute in themselves ‘extraordinary circumstances'.'

It is now hoped this ruling will help close the loophole that allows airlines to claim an aircraft fault is outside their control.

Loopholes still exist

This is not the only loophole in the Denied Boarding regulation – the legislation that governs passengers’ rights when flights are cancelled. Recent evidence gathered by Which? Holiday found that passengers were still losing out financially as a result of other loopholes in the law.

Which? Legal Service learned of several cases where passengers had to buy new flights after their original flight was cancelled, sometimes at a higher price. Although passengers are entitled to a refund airlines are not obliged to pay the difference in cost between the old ticket and the new one.

Peter McCarthy from Which? Legal Service said: ‘There is a lack of recourse under the regulation for passengers to claim the difference between a cancelled flight and the cost of a new one.’

Under the Denied Boarding regulation, if a flight is cancelled passengers are entitled to a refund or to be rerouted on a later flight. Airlines do not have to compensate passengers if the flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances. However, all passengers are entitled to refreshments, meals and accommodation if delayed overnight.

To learn more about your travel rights, visit our consumer rights website today.