Airlines have been told they cannot keep flight-delay compensation claims on hold, and should instead settle cases in line with existing passenger-rights rules.
A judge in Liverpool threw out applications by Jet2, Ryanair and Wizz Air to “stay” settlement of claims under European rules. In his judgment, District Judge Jenkinson said: “A line should now be drawn. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
A decade ago, the European Union brought in legislation, known as Regulation 261, which penalised airlines for cancelling flights at short notice - prescribing cash compensation ranging from €250 for a short hop to €600 for a long-haul flight.
The European Court of Justice later ruled that a delay in arrival of three hours or more was equivalent to a cancellation, entitling passengers on affected flights to the stipulated compensation.
The only defence available to airlines: that the delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.”
Until last year, airlines routinely rejected claims for delays caused by technical problems, saying they were “extraordinary” events.
But after a 27-hour delay on a Jet2 flight from Malaga to Manchester, Ron Huzar of Stockport successfully claimed against the airline. After the Supreme Court declined Jet2’s request for an appeal, it appeared that the legal process had reached the end of the road. Some airlines began paying out for delays caused by technical issues. But a case in Holland about technical delays, known as Van de Lans v KLM, has been sent to the European Court.
Five airlines - Jet2, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Flybe and Wizz Air of Hungary - have been “staying” cases about technical faults while it is decided.
A specialist law firm in Cheshire, Bott & Co, has 8,000 cases that are on hold. This week it took test cases to Liverpool County Court about the stay. One of its clients, Kim Allen, suffered a seven-hour delay on a Jet2 flight from Manchester to Malaga. The airline had declined to settle her claim for compensation pending a judgment in the Van der Lans case. But today the judge rejected Jet2’s defence, saying: “Passengers are entitled to have their cases proceed now, rather than be delayed once again.”
Kim Allen, from Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire, said: “For the airline to try to put cases on hold yet again over the same issue just seemed wrong. Hopefully it’s now time for the airlines to pay us what the law says they should.”
Kevin Clarke, a flight-delay lawyer for Bott & Co, said: “ We’ve seen continual legal challenges to the finer details of flight delay regulation by the airlines. It’s pleasing the court is now taking a firm line against them.”
A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “There is no reason for airlines to place claims on hold and we fully expect them to pay passengers the compensation they are due.”
Some airlines are unlikely to give up and start sending out cheques to settle all the claim without a fight. They are aggrieved about what they see as absurdly generous compensation to passengers who suffer only mild inconvenience. The pay-outs add significantly to airlines’ costs: in November, Thomas Cook set aside £41m to settle compensation claims.
A spokesman for Flybe, Andrew McConnell, said : “Flybe will be contacting all customers who have made claims for EU261 compensation where there were technical issues, with a view to settling the outstanding claims that fall outside of the current exemptions.”
Jet2 has not yet commented on the verdict.
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