Consumer victories for airline delays and cancellationsRyanair and Thomas Cook told to pay passengers

31 January 2013


Consumer rights for flight delays and cancellations got a boost today after two court rulings.

In one, Stoke-on-Trent county court ruled that Thomas Cook must pay compensation to a customer whose flight was delayed by 22 hours in 2009.

And in a second, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Ryanair must reimburse passengers for meals, transport and accommodation costs caused by flight cancellations following the Icelandic volcano eruption in 2010.

Passenger rights for delays and cancellations are set out in European regulations. You can find out full details on the Which? consumer rights website.

Thomas Cook delays

Airlines have for years argued that the rights to compensation in the regulations apply only to cancellations, not delays.

But in October last year, the ECJ confirmed that passengers were entitled to compensation for delays. It also ruled that passengers could claim for delays to flights dating back to 17 February 2005.

The Thomas Cook customer was awarded £640 (€800) on Monday after the court heard the delay was caused by a mechanical fault.

Airlines must pay compensation for delays of three or more hours that were within their control, but not if they are caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as extreme weather. Find out how to claim compensation for delays.

Ryanair cancellations

However, airlines must provide care to passengers whose flights are delayed for two hours or more or cancelled, even if the problem is caused by extraordinary circumstances.

Ryanair disputed its obligation to provide this care after the Icelandic volcano in 2010, saying that the incident was so extraordinary that the normal rules should not apply.

However, the ECJ said it did not recognise a separate category of ‘particularly extraordinary’ events and ruled that airlines must provide passengers with care during events like the ash cloud crisis. It said there was no time limit on how long care should be provided for.

The case was brought by a Ryanair passenger who claimed that the airline should reimburse her €1,130 for the cost of meals, refreshment, accommodation and transport between 17 and 24 April 2010.

Flight costs

The ruling said airlines could pass on the cost of providing care in ticket prices, and Ryanair immediately claimed the decision would increase the cost of flying across Europe.

The airline said the extra costs would have to come from passengers because the airline could not recover them from governments or unions. It claimed airlines had now become the insurer of last resort, as insurance companies had avoided liability for ash cloud costs by arguing it was an 'act of God'.

Airline ticket prices

However, Which? believes there is no reason for airlines to push up prices. A spokesperson said: 'The ruling by the European Court of Justice simply confirms the existing situation relating to the 2010 ash cloud travel disruption – that airlines should reimburse passengers for reasonable costs, including accommodation food and transport.

'Airlines already account for compensation in their ticket costs, so there should be no reason for any airline to increase their prices as a result.'

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