09/03/2013

easyJet forced to pay late flight compensation

Passengers on a flight from Antalya to Bâle, which was 5 hours late, combined to demand compensation. A class action?


The newspaper 20 Minutes carried a report yesterday, 2 September, that according to the Sonntags-Zeitung newspaper, 80 passengers on a flight from Antalya to Bâle were sufficiently upset with a 5 hour delay that they joined together to claim the compensation that an airline must pay for delays (normally beyond three hours) if the airline cannot claim exceptional circumstances (weather or strikes can be exceptional, but technical problems with an aircraft are not an acceptable excuse).

The story was taken up and expanded in Le Matin. It appears that the easyJet flight EZS1210 from Antalya to Bâle on Saturday 6 July, was diverted to Geneva for what were described as "technical reasons". In checking, I found that this flight, using the easyJet Switzerland Airbus A319 registered as HB-JZF, landed in Geneva that evening at 11h22pm. It then only flew again on the Monday 8 July, so we can reasonably assume that it was under repair on Sunday 7 July. The compensation was reported to cost easyJet 500 Swiss Francs per person, i.e. 40,000 Swiss Francs in total.

Le Matin suggested that this resembled what the Americans call a class action. It appears that the action was instigated by a passenger who is a lawyer from Bâle, an ex-UDC politician known to be a stickler for procedure.

In a similar case, reported in England by the Daily Telegraph on 24 August, passengers on an easyJet flight from Milan to Lisbon were compensated for a delay (and a fright!) when their aircraft had a technical problem during the takeoff, and so had to turn around and make what was called by the crew as "a precautionary landing". In this case the problem was bits of the cowling of one of the engines, which fell of during the takeoff, hitting the windows of the aircraft.

This latter incident also caused a bit of a furore because the passengers were initially offered the minimum compensation, which is 250 Euros. However, the distance from Milan to Lisbon is sufficiently long that a higher compensation of 400 Euros is the amount due. In a little sideswipe, the newspaper reported that passengers were informed that when the delayed flight would land in Lisbon at around 2am, easyJet would not pay any taxi fares!

Thomas Haagensen, easyJet director for northern Europe, is reported to say that a delay such as that experienced on the Antalya-Bâle flight is exceptional, and that the overall punctuality record of the company is extremely good. While concurring with the latter part of that statement, I have to say that delays of more than 4 hours in easyJet flights to or from Geneva are not uncommon. This is due to the fact that, faced with an aircraft unavailability problem, easyJet frequently change a "there and back" flight into a "back and then there, but very late" flight.

Part of this tale might suggest that the Swiss German mentality is rather more likely to insist on legal rights than us from French-speaking Switzerland. Alternatively, perhaps it is simply because a passenger aware of the legal compensation rights decided to act. Whichever it was, this must be one of the worst fears for low-cost companies in general!

Maybe one day, when incoming flights are arriving very late, we will have lawyers waiting outside to offer passengers a "no win, no fee" deal on compensation!

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