Victory for delayed passengers as European Court of Justice rules that ‘a technical problem’ is not an extraordinary circumstance

Delayed airline passengers across Europe stand to gain millions of pounds in compensation following a key flight delay ruling last week by Europe’s leading court. The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of passengers in a case involving KLM, when it decided that ‘a technical problem’ is not one of the extraordinary circumstances that airlines can use as a valid defence against paying flight delay compensation. The landmark decision in the Van der Lans v KLM case could affect millions of delayed passengers throughout the UK and Europe.

So what did the court’s decision hinge on? Well, European flight delay Regulation EC 261/2004 entitles air passengers delayed by three hours or more to claim up to €600 compensation, as long as the delay was not caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Unfortunately the regulation did not give a precise definition of ‘extraordinary circumstances’, so it meant the courts had to be the ones who interpreted it.

Last October the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Huzar v Jet2.com that technical issues are not an ‘extraordinary circumstance.’ The case unlocked £750 million in flight delay compensation for passengers in England and Wales.

In the Van der Lans Case KLM argued that spontaneous technical issues (as opposed to technical issues discovered during routine maintenance of the aircraft) are an extraordinary circumstance. The court, however, disagreed with this contention, and ruled in the plaintiff’s favour. How important will this decision prove to be? Well, its importance can’t be over exaggerated. It is a landmark decision. Had KLM won the case, the vast majority of ‘technical issues’ would no longer be claimable anywhere in Europe, despite the Supreme Court ruling.

Is this latest ruling good news for passengers?

 

Well, undoubtedly. The result will have a big impact on when passengers can claim compensation for flight delays. Because the ECJ is a higher authority than the Supreme Court, the vast majority of compensation claims due to technical issues would have been turned down if KLM had won.

What do the lawyers say?

 

Kevin Clarke, a lawyer at Bott & Co, which acted on behalf of Ronald Huzar said:

“That the same issue has had to go to the ECJ despite the Supreme Court ruling shows the lengths to which the airline industry will go to avoid paying out on valid claims. Fortunately, the courts have ruled in favour of consumers.”

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