If you’ve recently returned from holiday and been forced to hang around the airport because of a flight delay, then you may be interested to hear about a case that came before the County Court in Manchester recently. In what was a test case over flight delays, the court ruled that Ryanair could not cut the time a passenger has in which to claim compensation from six years to two by adding a clause to the small print in its terms and conditions.
Why is this important? Well, the ruling sets a precedent for delayed EU passengers on all airlines. What’s more, it the decision is upheld on appeal it could potentially affect compensation claims being made by millions of passengers. However, Ryanair has said that it will appeal the decision, claiming that the six-year rule was “unnecessary and unreasonable.”
The Supreme Court ruled last year that delayed passengers in England and Wales have six years to claim, but Ryanair says passengers who book with it accept their terms and conditions, and therefore it maintains the claim limit is two years. However, at Manchester County Court, Judge Platts ruled Ryanair could not use a clause in its small print to impose a limit.
Ryanair and other airlines are already deeply unhappy about the EU-wide system triggering payouts which can be way in excess of the cost of the ticket (under EU regulation 216/2004 passengers can currently claim between £180 and £440 for a delay of at least three hours, depending on the length of the wait and the distance to be travelled). So naturally Ryanair is not happy with the ruling and has insisted it will fight the decision all the way. Nevertheless, it disputes the claim from some lawyers that it could be exposed to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of compensation claims from customers who suffered delays. The airline maintains that even if its appeal against the Manchester County Court ruling is unsuccessful, its maximum potential liability is €5m (£3.6m).
Why does Ryanair believe the potential liability is so low? Well, it claims that more than 90 per cent of its passengers affected by delays make a valid claim within two years. Therefore very few would need to submit a claim between two and six years after the event, even if they realised that they had the option.
Flight delay compensation, what are the implications?
What are the implications of this ruling? Well, lawyers say they are potentially far- reaching because had Ryanair won the case, all airlines may have been able to impose a two-year time limit on all existing and future flight delay claims.
Legal firm Bott & Company, based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, which represented the two passengers who brought the case against Ryanair. It says the ruling could potentially total up to £610m of past claims for Ryanair – although the airline disputes this assessment. Kevin Clarke, a spokesperson for the firm said:
“We’re delighted that the court has dismissed yet another argument put forward by the airlines to restrict passenger rights.”
“We fully expect the airlines to continue to fight these cases but we are prepared to hold them to account in each and every instance where the law says compensation is payable, and with the courts continuing to find on behalf of consumers we’ve real cause to be optimistic that passengers will receive the compensation they are entitled to.”
Ryanair said in a statement:
“We note this ruling which reverses lower court orders that a two-year time limit for claims is reasonable.”
“Since we believe a six-year time limit for submitting such claims is both unnecessary and unreasonable, we have instructed our lawyers to immediately appeal this ruling.”