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Aviation industry suffers yet another blow in the battle for air passenger rights

 

London/Brussels, 17 September 2015 – Passenger rights prevail once again as KLM loses ground following a ruling by the European Court of Justice today. This exemplary case will potentially affect millions of airline passengers across Europe. As for the airlines, this ruling is yet another setback in a series of losses. 

The European Supreme Court announced today, that technical errors, the most common reason for flight delays and cancellations, lie within the operational responsibility of airlines. Technical difficulties can therefore not be regarded as extraordinary circumstances even when they occur unexpectedly. In the case of a technical error, airlines will therefore be obliged to pay the legal compensation of up to £440 (€ 600).

KLM vs. Van der Lans

In 2009 passenger Corina Van der Lans experienced a delay on a KLM flight. Due to a technical error, her flight from Quito (Ecuador) to Amsterdam (The Netherlands) arrived with a delay of 29 hours. According to KLM no compensation was due as the fault had been detected just before departure, after the regular pre-flight checks had been performed. The legislation, that establishes the rights of airline passengers, does not explicitly state under which circumstances a delay or cancellation can be regarded as an extraordinary circumstance. As a result, assessment has to be made per case by individual judges. The Dutch court who initially reviewed the Van der Lans case therefore consulted with the European Court of Justice in order to clarify the scope of the airline’s responsibility when it comes to unforeseen technical errors. Corina van der Lans stated: "The case has been ongoing for years, it is a very complex and time-consuming procedure.”

UK Supreme Court

This is not the first high-profile case with regards to technical errors within Europe. In 2011 Ron Huzar and his family were delayed by 27 hours on their Jet2.com flight from Malaga to Manchester as a result of a technical issue. The airline refused to pay compensation, even after the County Court’s judgment in Huzar’s favour. The case was taken to the UK Supreme Court, who agreed that technical problems could not be regarded as extraordinary. This ruling was applied to cases across the UK, but it wasn’t long before cases were once again stayed pending the Van der Lans judgment. 

'A technical error as the one in the Van der Lans case does not constitute an extraordinary circumstance'

The Court concluded today: “The airline must ensure the maintenance and proper functioning of all aircrafts used for commercial activities. No component of an aircraft is indestructible; these situations are inherent in the normal operations of an airline. Therefore, when a flight is cancelled due to unforeseen technical errors, the airline remains obliged to pay compensation to its passengers.” This ruling is in line with Regulation objectives to protect air passenger rights as much as possible and could mean a breakthrough in the thousands of cases that have been pending over the past six months as well as any future cases.

Technical errors are the main reason for rejecting claims

The excuse of unforeseen technical errors is one often used by airlines to reject claims, according to figures from Flight-Delayed.co.uk, the main representative of air passengers in the UK. Of the 28 677 passengers that submitted a claim in the last year, over 39 percent reported delays due to technical defects. “Approximately 79 percent of the claims are immediately rejected, yet when we take a claim to court we win 98 percent of the time, even in the case of technical errors” says Flight-Delayed spokesperson Raymond Veldkamp. According to Veldkamp, this judgment is a big step towards better consumer protection for air passengers. On the other hand, he expects airlines will find new reasons to reject claims. “This judgment still leaves room for interpretation and as we’ve seen with previous smaller judgments, airlines are incredibly creative.  

“Fortunately, there is an increasing awareness of passenger rights, so with case law on our side and a lot of perseverance, we’re likely to get there in the long run.”

Written by: Flight-delayed.co.uk