Thousands of flight passengers could benefit from flight delay compensation after a court decision ruled lightning strikes aren’t an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.
Judge Melissa Clarke ruled in favour of two passengers in an appeal case against Monarch Airlines at Reading County Court.
The passengers, Michael Evans and his partner Julie Lee, were awarded €600 (£450) each for a five-hour flight delay.
Although not a binding decision, the ruling could become highly persuasive in flight delay cases involving lightning in English and Welsh courts.
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The lead case on lightning strikes
The ruling could benefit as many as 54,000 delayed passengers across different airlines, and the total compensation involved could be as much as £17.6m.
According to the solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Evans ‘although the decision is not legally binding on other courts, … [it] is the lead case on the issue of lightning strikes’.
Although most aircraft that are struck by lightning arrive safely and on time, delays can occur when the plane lands and is subject to mandatory safety checks and the airline does not have relief aircraft in place.
In this case, Monarch did not have spare aircraft available so passengers had to wait for the plane that had been struck by lightning to be checked.
If the airline can prove the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, no compensation is payable.
This has led to several points of contention between passengers and airlines in the courts.
Extraordinary circumstances are situations beyond the control of the airline, for example, security risks, political instability or severe weather that makes flying dangerous.
While bad weather is not the airline’s fault, this ruling may mean if airlines aren’t able to put measures in place to deal with delays caused by bad weather they could have to compensate passengers for their loss of time.
The Civil Aviation Authority includes lightning strikes in its list of extraordinary circumstances, but in this case Judge Clark said that the list is not legally binding and has been proven wrong in court on a number of occasions.
Monarch is aware of the judgment and is reviewing it.