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Simon Calder: Today's ruling has airline bosses fuming


“As you have a 3-hour plus delayed flight in the last 6 years. New EU regs say your entitled to £499.76 in cash. Reply DELAY to get it sent out now.”

So reads one of the texts, as inaccurate as it is illiterate, being sprayed out randomly in the wake of two Appeal Court judgments against airlines. Expect more such no-win-no-fee messages as recognition spreads of the airlines’ liabilities.

Airline bosses are understandably furious at the retrospective recompense they are now obliged to pay for past delays. The EC261 rules on passenger compensation were never drafted to include such payouts, but case law means long waits are regarded as equivalent to cancellations.

Thomson, the loser of today’s appeal, is a special case. The airline, part of the UK’s biggest holiday firm, took a singularly aggressive approach to retrospective claims. It told applicants: “The Supreme Court in the UK has said that all claims to do with ‘international carriage by air’ need to be brought within two years. We therefore can't consider claims for flights that were delayed more than two years ago.”

The judge at Cambridge County Court described Thomson’s argument as “specious and illogical”, and the Law Lords have now backed his verdict. Future passengers with Thomson can expect to foot a formidable bill for lawyers’ fees as well as compensation for previously delayed travellers.