10/19/2011

Delayed flights : compensation

The European Court of Justice made a decision relative to Spanish passengers on an Air France flight which turned around. The decision allows for compensation for badly delayed flights.


The decision was commented on in the Swiss radio programme "On en parle" this morning, 19 October. Last week the European Court of Justice ruled on a claim by 7 Spanish passengers on a flight of Air France which turned around and returned to the departure airport. It ruled that the contract between the passengers and Air France had not been respected, and awarded a compensatory payment of 4,150 SDR (Special Drawing Rights), currently just under 6000 Swiss Francs, to these passengers.

The judgement actually went beyond this special case to a more general case where the flight arrives at the destination more than a certain number of hours (typically 3 hours for a flight inside Europe) after the scheduled time. In such cases, a corresponding compensation can be requested in addition to the normal assistance (meals and refreshments, telephone calls, hotel accommodation overnight). These rules came from a decision of the Court on 19 November 2009, which stated the following :-

"The Court held that passengers on flights whose arrival at final destination is delayed by three hours or more are entitled to compensation, even though this is not expressly provided for in the Regulation"

This month, in which there have been a fair number of easyJet flights departing several hours late, plus some cancelled or rerouted flights, such a judgement would permit all passengers to claim compensation. Very recent examples are the cancelled late flight from Porto last Sunday night (a replacement flight operated the day afterwards) and the last flight from Berlin yesterday, which was so late that it had to be diverted to Lyon, thus allowing the passengers an early morning coach ride from Lyon to Geneva. There have also been flights operating with several hours delay, in particular to Madrid, Berlin and London Gatwick.

Although in a strict sense Switzerland is not bound by this decision, the opinion given on the programme was that it would be only normal to see flights to and from Switzerland made liable to the same conditions. It was noted that there can be extenuating circumstances where the airline can justifiably claim that the delay/cancellation was for circumstances beyond their control (acts of God!). However, technical difficulties were specifically excluded as a justifiable reason.

In summary, therefore, there have been several hundred easyJet passengers this month who can clain a considerable amount of compensation: plus some passengers from flights of other European airlines. According to Kim Vallon, the specialist in judicial affairs for the magazine "Bon à Savoir" who took part in the programme, passengers should first make claims directly to the airline. If these are rejected, or simply ignored or endlessly delayed, then passengers should take the case to higher authority: for Switzerland this would be OFAC (the Federal Office for Civil Aviation).

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has tried this.

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