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Passengers on delayed flights should get compensation, EU court confirms

European court upholds ruling that passengers are entitled to compensation for late flights as well as cancellation.

Airlines face payouts of millions of pounds to passengers after a European court upheld a ruling that compensation should be paid for flight delays as well as cancellations.

The EU's court of justice ruled that passengers whose flights arrive more than three hours late are entitled to compensation of up to €600 (£488) each unless the delay is due to extraordinary circumstances outside the airline's control, such as strikes or bad weather.

In confirming its interpretation of EU law, the court reiterated that passengers delayed could suffer similar inconvenience to those on cancelled flights and therefore should be similarly recompensed.

The judgment resolves a grey area in regulation and potentially opens up airlines to millions of pounds in claims, including many put on hold pending the European ruling.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the verdict provided "much needed clarity".

Iain Osborne, CAA director of regulatory policy, said: "Every year around 200 million passengers travel on 2m flights to and from the UK, with the vast majority experiencing no problems. However, when something does go wrong, there are regulations in place to protect travellers, and the CAA is ready to ensure companies abide by them."

The CAA can help passengers bringing complaints against airlines or airports, although it stressed that passengers should first contact airlines to give them an opportunity to consider their claim before getting the authority involved.

The EU is separately reviewing its regulations on what assistance and compensation should be provided.

According to flight-delayed.co.uk, a website that specialises in helping passengers seek compensation, the hassleof making claims "probably will not change even after the verdict".

A spokeswoman for easyJet, which has challenged the CAA's interpretation of due compensation, said the airline was disappointed by the outcome but also welcomed the clarity.

Airline sources said that while the cumulative bill would be sizeable, the majority of delays – such as those due to fog which disrupted dozens of flights at Heathrow and elsewhere on Monday and Tuesday this week – would not lead to airlines being liable for compensation. Constraints on crew working hours and the nature of short-haul scheduled services mean many flights are in any case cancelled when delays loom.

However, long-haul and charter flight customers on holiday packages, whose economics dictate that planes would fly even with long delays, are most likely to benefit from the additional rights. Passengers will still have to pursue claims individually.

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