EU clarifies 'extraordinary' to help air passengers claim compensation

Added 31/07/2013

Flight delays

Hundreds of millions of individuals travel by plane each year. For the most part, it is a safe and reliable mode of transport which succeeds in getting people to their destinations on time.

However, when delays and cancellations do occur it is sometimes unclear to what compensation passengers are entitled, if any. Usually, compensation is only available to passengers when the airline itself was responsible for the delay or cancellation.

What are my rights as an air passenger?

The European Commission guidelines, state that an airline has a duty of care to assist their passengers when significant delays or cancellations occur. This extends to providing refreshments and accommodation as necessary, even when the airline is not at fault and compensation will not be paid.

According to the EC guidelines, if your flight is cancelled or you are delayed by more than three hours, you are entitled to receive compensation. However, this is only the case when the delay is the airline’s fault and not when circumstances occur which are defined as “extraordinary”.

What are “extraordinary circumstances”?

The EC has recently issued guidance to clarify the term ‘extraordinary circumstances’ in order to make it easier for passengers to know when they are entitled to compensation.

The term “extraordinary” means that the events which caused your delayed or cancelled flight were out of the airline’s control. When these occur, the airline is not obliged to pay you any compensation.

Examples of such circumstances include (but are not limited to) bad weather, terrorism (or related issues), any unforeseeable technical problems where maintenance had been carried out correctly, strikes by airport personnel and closure of airspace.

How do I go about making a claim?

First of all, you need to contact your airline to establish what caused the delay and find out what their complaint procedures are. Their website may contain information about what compensation they offer and how to claim it. You can also write a letter explaining the circumstances for which there are templates available online.

The new EC guidelines clarify exactly what you, the passenger, have a right to expect if you experience cancelled or delayed flights. As a result, you are in a much better position to know if you can make a claim.

For more information about airline passenger rights and compensation visit the CAA website.

Travel insurance can also provide cover if your flight is delayed for a long period of time. For more information read our guide to travel delay.

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