One passenger successfully claimed compensation from Jet2 after a 27-hour mechanical delay / Getty Images


Britain’s airlines are preparing themselves for a flood of flight delay compensation claims after the Supreme Court threw out applications by two airlines to appeal earlier verdicts.

When passenger rights rules took effect a decade ago, cash compensation was payable only for cancellation and overbooking. But test cases held that a three-hour plus delay was equivalent to cancellation, and that passengers were due between €250 and €600, depending on the length of the flight.

The airlines’ only defence is “extraordinary circumstances”. Many carriers have asserted the defence when delays were caused by technical defects. But Ronald Huzar, a passenger from Stockport, successfully claimed compensation from Jet2 after a 27-hour mechanical delay on a flight from Malaga to Manchester in October 2011.

In the summer, Jet2 lost an appeal about the verdict, and when handing down judgement the Law Lords refused leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Jet2 applied for permission to appeal, and for the past four months have been telling passengers that relevant claims were stayed until a decision was reached. Other airlines, including British Airways, easyJet and Monarch, also declined to settle cases before the Supreme Court ruling.

Thomson Airways, part of Britain’s biggest holiday company, Tui, had made a similar application about an unrelated case. The airline had maintained that the Montreal Convention on aviation, rather than national statutes of limitation, governed claims for compensation - and limited them to two years, rather than six. Its arguments were also rejected by the Supreme Court.

A Wilmslow law firm, Bott & Co, has been supporting the claimants. David Bott, senior partner for the solicitors, said: “If you’ve previously submitted a claim to the airline but have been turned down on the grounds of a technical defect or because your claim is more than two years old, we recommend you resubmit your claim. The Supreme Court’s decision has provided total clarity in the law, which will benefit both airlines and passengers going forward.”

Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: “We acknowledge airlines’ concerns about the proportionality of the flight delay regulations and recognise that airfares may increase as a result. However, the court’s decisions in these cases bring legal clarity to this issue and we now expect airlines to abide by them when considering claims.”

Jet2 declined to comment, while Thomson Airways said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the decision. We are aware of our obligations to our customers under the EU regulations and we will continue to comply with them."

The UK’s biggest budget airline easyJet has been telling passengers who claim for delays: “The potential increase in costs by paying compensation far in excess of the fare price places a huge financial burden on us as an airline and will ultimately lead higher fares for all which is not in the long-term consumer interest.”