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Airlines told to review compensation claim refusals

Europe clarifies 'extraordinary circumstances'

Airport delays

Airlines are being asked to reconsider their refusal to pay compensation to thousands of consumers after the European Commission published a list of when they do, and do not, have to compensate customers for delays and cancellations.

The list of what can be considered ‘extraordinary circumstances’ aims to end confusion over when airlines can claim events were beyond their control, which means they do not have to pay compensation, and when they must compensate passengers for the delay or cancellation.

You can see the full list of extraordinary circumstances on the European Commission website. You can check your rights for delayed and cancelled flights on the Which? consumer rights website.

Flight compensation

Airlines are required to pay compensation for cancellations and lengthy delays by the European Denied Boarding Regulation. However, they do not have to pay if they can show the cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.

They have faced a flood of claims since the European Court of Justice confirmed last October that the Denied Boarding Regulation did cover delays as well as cancellations.

About 10,000 consumers who found their claims turned down by airlines on the basis that the delay was the result of extraordinary circumstances have appealed to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Flight delays

The CAA has considered around 900 claims so far, and has found that the delay was within the control of the airline in about half of those cases, meaning hundreds of customers will now get compensation.

It is now asking airlines to reconsider their refusal to pay thousands of other claims in the light of the new list of extraordinary circumstances. 

The list groups incidents that can be considered extraordinary under headings including war, sabotage, security, weather, airport closures, bird-strikes, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, and industrial disputes.

Extraordinary circumstances

Events that are not extraordinary include technical issues found during scheduled maintenance or failure to maintain aircraft properly, air crew running over their hours as a result of poor planning, and absence of flight documentation. 

The CAA wants airlines to reassess outstanding claims within around six weeks and hopes to have the backlog of claims cleared by the autumn.

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