Passengers stranded in Terminal 5 / PA

Travellers can now theoretically claim compensation for delays dating back to 2005

A landmark ruling has opened the door for customers whose flights are delayed by over three hours to receive compensation payments.

In a ruling made earlier this week, a judge in Staffordshire implemented a decision made by the European Court of Justice last October that delays caused by airline failures merited compensation.

The judge awarded a former teacher and his wife £680 after their flight home from Tenerife with Thomas Cook was delayed by 22 hours.

Jeff and Joyce Halsall initially took their case to court in 2009 but a judge rejected their claim after Thomas Cook said the delay was due to an ‘exceptional circumstance’ beyond its control.

In fact the flight was delayed by a mechanical fault.

Mr Halsall appealed against the decision after learning of the European legislation, which allows people to claim between £200 and £480 if they are delayed for more than three hours.

On Monday the couple won their case, with a judge at Stoke-on-Trent County Court awarding €800 euros (£680) in compensation and expenses incurred in pursuing the legal action.

Consumer groups have reacted with joy at the decision, saying it will ensure airlines treat their customers more fairly in future and end a culture of rejecting most claims as a matter of course.

Although airlines will still be able to reject claims when delays are outside their control, for example during bad weather or strikes, travellers can now theoretically claim compensation for delays dating back to 2005.

Rough estimates suggest that, out of the 200 million passengers to use UK airports every year, roughly two million are delayed by over three hours.

Out of these, an estimated 400,000 would be eligible for compensation.

In reaction to the payout, Thomas Cook said it had offered Mr Halsall more money than the figure eventually awarded by the court.

A spokesman said: “We appreciate how frustrating flight delays can be and we’ve reiterated our apology to Mr Halsall for the lengthy wait he and his wife experienced.”

“We always look at claims such as this fairly and make every effort to resolve complaints without the need for a court hearing”