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Airlines’ Favorite Loophole: “Extraordinary Circumstances”

AuthorThe AirHelper

“I’m sorry, we’re unable to compensate you at this time because your flight disruption was caused by circumstances beyond our control.”

Could this message be any more frustrating? Anyone who’s heard this has already suffered a flight delay/overbooking/cancellation, only to be told they won’t be compensated because the airline could not have prevented the disruption.

Sound a bit convenient?

While an airline may owe passengers money for disrupted flights, the airline is protected when the disruption was caused by “extraordinary circumstances” that could not have controlled or prevented. So what are these “extraordinary circumstances” and why do they let the airlines off the hook?

Extraordinary Circumstances Defined

“Extraordinary circumstances” came about because there are events that can disrupt flights that truly are beyond an airline’s control. For example, an airline can’t exactly prevent a snowstorm from happening or step in to make sure political unrest doesn’t affect operations.

However, that’s not to say that the term isn’t sometimes used as a loophole to get out of paying compensation for disrupted flights.

The term “extraordinary circumstances” came about in the first place during a breakthrough ruling by the European Parliament called Regulation (EC) No 261 / 2004, or EC 261. According to EC 261, extraordinary circumstances are described as such:

“As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.

Extraordinary circumstances should be deemed to exist where the impact of an air traffic management decision in relation to a particular aircraft on a particular day gives rise to a long delay, an overnight delay, or the cancellation of one or more flights by that aircraft, even though all reasonable measures had been taken by the air carrier concerned to avoid the delays or cancellations.”

In other words, extraordinary circumstances include:

  • strikes
  • political unrest
  • inclement weather
  • security risks
  • safety risks

The problem is, these terms are relatively vague. That means airlines can claim more and more things to be beyond their control in order to can wiggle out of paying compensation for disrupted flights.

What You Should Do if Your Flight Was Disrupted Due to Extraordinary Circumstances

If you’re thinking of filing a claim (or already have) but are held back by extraordinary circumstances, don’t let that stop you. For one thing, the law is always changing – and the more people that speak up for their rights, the more likely changes can be made in favor of passengers. For another thing, the term “extraordinary circumstances” is vague enough to fight back.

Look into the reason your flight was delayed.

If your flight was delayed and you weren’t given a reason why, call the airline and see if you can get some more information. (If you don’t have your ticket information anymore, you can search your email for the confirmation and use that to help the airline look up the flight.) Unless the delay was caused by an epic weather event, there’s a chance you can prove that the circumstances could, in fact, have been prevented by the airline.

While you have your airline on the phone, you can go ahead and ask them how to file a claim for compensation for your disrupted flight.

Use AirHelp to file a claim

If you want to forego the potential annoyance of dealing with the airline yourself, let us do it for you! We’ll investigate the reason for your flight disruption and fight for your claim. In some cases we’ll even take the airline to court. While we can’t win your claim if the disruption truly was unpreventable, you’ll lose nothing by trying. It worked for this woman, who won €600 on her claim!

Final Word

Yes, there are times when an airline has no choice but to delay or cancel your flight. But in all other times, it’s important to fight for your rights! Very few people are aware of their passenger rights and even fewer claim them. It’s in your power to do something about time-consuming and costly delays – don’t give up hope when they happen to you!

Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $680 in compensation if your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.

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