In the past, couples and families have had their holidays wrecked due to lengthy flight delays at the fault of their airlines, and many of them have been rejected compensation. This could be a thing of the past following a landmark ruling that could cost millions for airlines.
In October 2012, the European Union Court of Justice decreed that flight delays due to the failures of airlines (e.g. lack of staff or plane faults) deserve compensation. Then a Staffordshire judge, this week, implemented the ruling – a first in the UK. A couple was granted £680 following their Thomas Cook flight to the UK from Tenerife being delayed 22 hours. This case was based on a flight delayed by Thomas Cook on 31 October 2009 due to a mechanical fault. Joyce and Jeff Halsall claimed compensation in the courts and were initially rejected after the company claimed the delay had been caused by an exceptional circumstance it couldn’t control.
However, the couple appealed the verdict after becoming aware of the Court of Justice’s ruling, which allows passengers to claim £200 to £480 if their flights are delayed over three hours. Their appeal was won on Monday, and the judge awarded them £680 for compensation, as well as expenses for the court action.
Following the decision, Jeff Halsall said that he’s thrilled to win his case, and he certainly hopes passengers who have been rejected over the last five years are able to claim what they are owed now. The amount of people’s flights doesn’t matter. Everybody has a right to compensation, and although they may believe they need to take legal action to get it, they don’t. All they have to do is contact their carrier.
In a statement, Thomas Cook said the Halsalls were offered more compensation than the £680 the court finally granted them. They understand how frustrating delays to passengers’ flights can be. They reiterated their apology to the couple for their long wait. The spokesman added that the company always looks at claims like this one fairly and makes every attempt to resolve grievances without having to go to court.
The Civil Aviation Authority says this legal victory for the Halsalls seems to be the first in the UK since the European Court of Justice made its ruling. South East England Lib Dem MEP Catherine Beader says that it’s very important for the awareness of this legislation to be raised, as many passengers don’t realise they could be entitled to compensation for delays of more than three hours.
This is a major ruling for airlines, which are known to reject most compensation claims. According to consumer groups, this will ensure travellers are treated more fairly from now on. Although carriers can still reject claims when flight delays are out of their control (e.g. staff strikes or bad weather), travellers can claim compensation for delays that happened as far back as 2005. Every year, over 200 million passengers use airports in the UK, and it’s estimated that two million of them are delayed over three hours. It’s also estimated that a minimum of 400,000 passengers are eligible to claim compensation right now.
Experts believe that this will only increase fares, and the signs may already be showing. Yesterday, Ryanair was ordered to pay passengers compensation after becoming stranded during the 2010 volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. Chief executive Michael O’Leary says this ruling will greatly increase fares, which isn’t the result passengers want. He argues that the delays from the ash cloud were out of the airline’s control, and this is quite true, as the government prevented them carriers from flying. Courts will need to be careful not to force airlines to pay compensation when there’s no merit.