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Flight delays – compensation for mechanical failure?

There is nothing more frustrating that being sat in the departure lounge of a busy airport, at night, watching everyone else board their flights whilst you sit there, waiting, not moving.

The live departure board says “boarding shortly” … and has done so for some time now.

And then, inevitably, it changes to “delayed”.

It happened to me very recently – I was taking my son from Bristol Airport to see a football match in Barcelona. The cancellation did not go down particularly well, but fortunately we were able to drive to Gatwick and catch a flight a few hours later, and still get there in time to see Messi, Neymar and others strut their stuff.

Fortunately, EU rules mean that passengers on delayed flights are, sometimes, entitled to compensation. And the issue came to the news again on 11th June when the Jet2 Airline lost a case in the Court of Appeal on the issue of compensation.

The rules only apply:                              

  • to flights that either depart from an airport within the EU, or flights by EU-registered airlines that arrive at an airport in the EU. Therefore, a delay on my recent flight from Manchester to Delhi flight would have been covered, but the return flight (on Emirates) would not, and
  • to flights which arrive at their destination more than 3 hours’ late. And there are specialist websites that track the departure and arrival times of all aircraft going back the 6 years during which you are able to make a claim.

Compensation ranges from €250 to €600 per passenger, depending on the length of the flight (yes, there are websites that calculate flight distances too!) and the destination.

Finally, the reason for the delay must have been within the airline’s control … and this was the reason for the Jet2 Airline case in the Court of Appeal. It is accepted that delays due to bad weather, safety issues or volcanic ash are not within the airline’s control, and hence no compensation will be paid. But what if the aircraft itself suffers a technical or mechanical failure?

Mr Hazar’s flight from Manchester to Malaga was delayed for 27 hours due to a wiring defect caused by simple wear-and-tear on the aircraft, and he brought a £350 compensation claim against Jet2 based on the EU rules. The airline argued that the wiring defect was an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ beyond their control, but the Court disagreed. It held that aircraft maintenance was all part of Jet2’s service, and a wiring defect was “inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier” – and awarded Mr Hazar his compensation.

Interestingly, Jet2 instructed four different barristers and two different firms of solicitors … just to defend a £350 compensation claim. But then again, there is a bigger principle at stake here. Industry experts estimate that around 30% of flight delays are caused by technical or mechanical failure which, until now, has allowed airlines to avoid paying compensation. But no longer.

Whilst stopping short of suggesting the floodgates will now open, it is certainly (thanks to Mr Hazar) easier for passengers to claim compensation from their airlines for all that time sat in the departure lounge.

After all, there is only so much duty-free that one can buy…


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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