Thousands more air passengers will be entitled to compensation for flight delays after a court ruled against a holiday company’s attempt to limit claims to two years.
Three judges at the Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a challenge by Thomson Airways against a County Court decision to award James Dawson £1,488.73 for an eight-hour delay he experienced on a flight from Gatwick to the Dominican Republic in 2006 because of crew shortages caused by sickness.
The judges upheld an earlier ruling confirming that the time limit for bringing a compensation claim under European law is six years in England and Wales, not two years as argued by the airline.
The Which? consumer group said the ruling was “a victory for consumers” and brought clarity to issues around flight compensation.
Mr Dawson, from Peterborough, claimed €600 (£480) per person from the airline in 2012, which is payable as compensation for a flight of that length under EU regulations.
But Thomson refused to pay compensation because Mr Dawson did not make the claim within two years of the flight. Thomson argued that all delay claims for compensation were covered by the Montreal Convention, which limited claims to two years from the date of the incident.
But the Court of Appeal ruled that the time limit for bringing a claim must be determined by each country in the European Union.
In England and Wales this meant that travellers could make claims up to six years after their delay, under the Limitation Act.
Rejecting Thomson’s appeal, Lord Justice Moore-Bick said: “Although the amount involved is small, the principles to which it gives rise are of considerable importance to airlines and passengers alike.”
After the ruling by Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice Fulford, specialist lawyers said they estimated that the decision would affect more than 11 million passengers and was worth in excess of £4bn to consumers.
Mr Dawson’s solicitor, Bott & Co, based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, said it had “hundreds of litigated cases which have been stayed pending the outcome of the Dawson case, and thousands more ready to issue proceedings”.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “This decision is a victory for consumers, and will bring some much-needed clarity to the confusing process of flight compensation.”
Mr Dawson said: “I am pleased with the outcome and relieved that nearly two years after I commenced action against Thomson Airways a conclusion has been reached.”
Thomson said in a statement: “We believe that it is reasonable to expect that those who perceive they have suffered a real loss as a result of an unfortunate delay should be able to make their claim within two years. We also continue to believe that the law stipulates this and we are therefore surprised by today’s judgment.”
It said there were implications for the whole airline industry and specifically for ticket prices, and that it intended to seek an appeal to the Supreme Court.