In Part One we explored the basic rules governing flight delay compensation. Now it’s time to look at the detail. What causes of delay can the airline be held responsible for?
Did the airline cause the delay?
Flight delays caused by something within the control of the airline are almost always eligible for compensation under EU261.
Problems with airline check-in systems that cause long delays would be claimable. One of the most common airline-related issues is denied boarding due to overbooking. This is usually the result of airlines selling more tickets than there are seats, on the assumption that not all passengers will show up.
When all passengers do present themselves at check-in and there are too many people for the flight, the airline will have to deny boarding to certain passengers if no-one volunteers to miss the flight. Cases of denied boarding would always be claimable in this scenario.
Crew and staffing issues are another common reason for delays. People have won some significant court cases relating to crew sickness, so delays caused by crew or staff illness are claimable. The only exception would be if the pilot had to divert the flight because of a medical emergency on board.
Often a long delay can result in the aircraft crew exceeding their permitted working hours and therefore being unable to staff the plane. This scenario would be eligible for flight delay compensation.
What if it’s not the airline’s fault?
The only way an airline doesn’t have to pay compensation is when the delay is caused by an extraordinary circumstance. Airlines often try to avoid paying compensation for flight delays by arguing that a delay was caused by an extraordinary circumstance.
If this is the case for your flight delay, and you believe that the circumstance wasn’t extraordinary, then you may need to initiate court proceedings (or get us to do it) and try to obtain a judgment against the airline.
As the law currently stands, there are a number of unusual situations that are classed as extraordinary circumstances, and therefore not eligible for flight delay claims. These are:
- Hidden manufacturing defect (resulting in mass recall of a fleet)
- Weather conditions (such as a volcano eruption)
- Terrorism or acts of sabotage
- Air traffic management decisions (such as airport closure)
- Political or civil unrest (in countries not usually experiencing this type of incident)
Can I claim for bad weather?
Flight delays caused by weather conditions can often be eligible for flight compensation if the delay is 3 hours or more on arrival at the intended destination.
This can get complicated very quickly.
Airlines don’t have to pay flight delay compensation if the delay is due to an ‘extraordinary circumstance.’ In terms of weather-related delays, this would mean the weather conditions would need to be regarded as ‘freak’ – a volcano eruption and ash cloud for example.
Flight delays due to snow
If you are flying to a ski resort, snow is expected and therefore would be claimable. However, if you are flying to Madrid, snow would be considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and wouldn’t be eligible for compensation.
Flight delays due to fog or wind
Other winter weather conditions such as fog and wind could be eligible for compensation or an extraordinary circumstance, depending on the severity and how it affects the operation of the airports in question.
If the fog or wind is so bad that air traffic control at the arrival or departure airport have to reduce the number of flights coming in or out, or even close the airport completely, then this would usually be considered an extraordinary circumstance.
Flight delays due to rain
Delays caused by heavy rain would need to be so severe that there are floods in the airport or there is an air traffic control decision to limit flights or close the airport. Pilots are usually able to land aircraft in very wet rainy conditions, so even very heavy rain shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Flight delays due to overly hot weather
Many of us go on holiday to hotter climates and it has been known for temperatures to get so hot that it affects flights coming in or out of airports.
In an instance where it is so hot the runway tarmac softens, air traffic control may decide to close the runway. This would therefore become an Air Traffic Control issue and not necessarily because it is too hot to fly.
Flight delays due to sandstorms
Hot destinations such as the Middle East can experience sandstorms which cause flight delays. These events would be considered an extraordinary circumstance, unless they happened on a sufficiently regular basis to not be classed as ‘freak’ conditions.
Storms can cause problems for airlines and result in delays. Severe turbulence can occur when flying through storms and if the turbulence became so severe that the pilot had to divert the flight then this would most likely be classified as an unexpected flight safety procedure and not eligible for compensation.
What if the delay is on the previous flight?
With all the weather-related situations above it is important to note that even when the delay is an extraordinary circumstance, it usually only applies to that particular flight, and not subsequent ones made by the same aircraft.
For example, if your flight from Manchester to Malaga is delayed because the aircraft that was due to take you to Malaga is stuck in a snowstorm in Norway, the Norway to Manchester delay might be exempt from flight compensation but you should be able to claim as the weather conditions were OK between Manchester and Malaga.
Can I claim due to a strike?
This topic is under thorough discussion to this day in courts. Usually, if it is Air Traffic Control striking then it wouldn’t be eligible unless they strike often enough for it not to be an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.
Strikes by the airline’s staff when other airlines are still operating are claimable. Baggage handlers and airport staff are usually included.
Delays caused by third parties
Many delays caused by third parties are eligible for flight delay compensation.
Before clarifying the issues involving third parties that are claimable, it’s important to note there are some situations where third party-caused delays are not eligible. These include:
- Acts of deliberate sabotage (such as damage to an aircraft)
- Terrorism or terrorist activity
- Other security risks such as civil unrest or war
- Airport closed due to flood or power cut
Most other third-party issues would be eligible for compensation and there are common situations that are eligible.
For example, if the motorised boarding stairs or the luggage trucks hit the aircraft causing damage that needs to be repaired before travel, then this would be claimable if the delay extends beyond the three-hour mark and the pilot is unable to make up enough time to bring it back below three hours.
Airlines also have problems with their check-in computer systems occasionally and these usually receive lots of media coverage. A check-in glitch would be eligible for compensation if it caused a long delay.
Bird strikes that cause delays due to planes being repaired are extraordinary circumstances and are not eligible for flight delay compensation.