Court backs passengers in airline compensation case

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The European Court of Justice has rejected attempts by airlines – including Lufthansa and British Airways – to avoid paying compensation for delayed flights, making it harder for carriers to side-step payments in future.

The Luxembourg-based court on Tuesday (23 October) said travellers deserved to be recompensed for delays of more than three hours, reaffirming a right established three years ago.

The court was ruling in a case involving German carrier Lufthansa and another involving TUI Travel, British Airways, easyJet and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Passengers on flights starting or ending in the European Union are entitled to between €250 and €600 for delayed or cancelled flights under EU rules.

"The Court of Justice has confirmed its previous ruling that passengers whose flights have been delayed for a long time may be compensated," the court said in a statement on the ruling.

But the court also said that travellers would not be entitled to compensation if the airline could prove that the delay was caused by circumstances beyond its control.

The court ruled in 2009 that travellers should be compensated for flight delays of more than three hours in a case involving Air France.

In the Lufthansa case, passengers sued the airline for compensation in a German court after a flight delay of more than 24 hours. Judges subsequently sought advice from the ECJ.

In the second case, IATA, British Airways, easyJet and TUI Travel challenged the UK Civil Aviation Authority after it rejected their request to be exempted from paying for flight delays. British judges then asked the Court of Justice in Luxembourg for guidance.

Earlier this month, the ECJ ordered airlines to compensate travellers they bumped off flights because of strikes, saying that was not a good enough excuse not to pay up.

The cases are C-581/10, Nelson and others vs. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and C-629/10 TUI Travel and others vs. Civil Aviation Authority.

“Today marks the latest in a series of rulings by the European Court of Justice highlighting airlines’ often lamentable lack of compliance with their legal duties to passengers when cancelled or extensively delayed," Monique Goyens, who heads the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, said in a statement.

“Thankfully, the Court has again acknowledged that the harm of a delay of 3 hours or more can be equivalent to that of a flight cancellation. That airlines must compensate passengers unless the circumstances are ‘extraordinary’ has now been made clear and unambiguous.

“In the long run the European Commission needs to set this and similar, recent judgments in stone in its ongoing review of the regulation. Keyhole surgery is needed, not dramatic reform. The main challenge is enforcing what already exists. They also need to withstand what is quite robust industry pressure to dilute the law."

European Court of Justice

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