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Delayed flight: What are my passenger rights? (EU edition)

AuthorHannah Hager

This week, another landmark court case for air passenger rights was won in the Danish Supreme Court. This case ensures that the courts will continue to rule in favor of consumers when it comes to flight delays and cancellations.

But you may still be sitting there scratching your head and thinking – gosh this is really complicated – what ARE my air passenger rights when my flight gets delayed or cancelled?

We’re glad you asked, and of course happy to answer all of your questions about your air passenger rights and EC261!

Pro Tip — you can find a comprehensive guide covering all things EC261 on our “Know Your Rights” page, but here’s a cheat sheet for those of you who need a quick overview:

What is EC261?

EU regulation (EC) 261/2004 requires airlines to compensate passengers up to  600 if their flight is heavily delayed or cancelled.

In 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled in Sturgeon v. Condor Flugdienst GmbH that a flight would be considered “heavily delayed” if it was disrupted by more than 3 hours.

Just a few years later in 2013, in the case of Air France v. Heinz Gerke Folkerts, the courts ruled that flights delayed by less than 3 hours, but then arriving more than 3 hours past the originally scheduled arrival time, were still entitled to compensation under EC261.

A lot of the time, the airlines try to use the loophole of “extraordinary circumstances” to wiggle out of paying out compensation, but in recent years the courts have ruled in favor of passenger rights in most major landmark cases.

What are “extraordinary circumstances?”

“Extraordinary circumstances” were not defined by the courts when the original EC261 legislation was passed back in 2004.

This meant that many airlines began to interpret the phrase in a way to best serve their own agendas, which has resulted in a number of cases over the past decade that have aimed to clarify the terminology for both travelers and the airlines.

The following scenarios are defined/classified as “extraordinary circumstances” and legally fall out of an airline’s control:

  • Terrorism or sabotage
  • Airport or airline strikes
  • Security risks
  • Political or civil unrest
  • Inclement weather
  • Unknown manufacturing defects

On the other side of the coin, the courts have ruled that the following scenarios ARE NOT considered “extraordinary circumstances” and are deemed within the controls of the airline. This means that in these scenarios the airline must pay compensation to affected passengers:

  • Technical issues (except for unknown manufacturing defects or acts of sabotage)
  • Denied boarding due to flight overbooking
  • Flight is understaffed, cabin crew/pilots arrive late, or airplane crew exceed working hours
  • Any other circumstance not listed as an “extraordinary circumstance” from the previous list of examples

In this week’s Danish Supreme Court case, the court once again ruled in favor of passenger rights, when it upheld the ECJ’s landmark 2015 Van der Lans v. KLM case.

In both the Danish court case and the Van der Lans case, the judges ruled that technical defects cannot be considered “unforeseeable” or “extraordinary circumstances,” and then used as an excuse to not pay out compensation to passengers.

How can I check to see if my delayed or cancelled flight is eligible for compensation?

We thought you’d never ask!

Ok so this is an easy one and AirHelp’s unique area of expertise of course 😉

Like you, we know that EC261 is not the easiest law to understand – there are even more stipulations to consider, such as how far you were flying, how long your delay was, etc. that all make a difference for your claim – and that’s exactly why we invented our super easy, online claim form, which instantly tells you if you’re eligible for compensation.

If your delay is covered under EC261, AirHelp will handle all of the paperwork and bureaucracy for you, so that all you have to do is sit back, kick your feet up and watch the money roll in!

On the other hand, if your flight is cancelled or delayed and is not covered under EC261, all hope is not lost and you may be covered and not even know it.

Regardless of your situation, we are always here to answer any and all of your questions about EC261, so feel free to chat with us live or check out some other passenger rights  FAQs here.

Image Credit: smlp.co.uk

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