A case being heard at the Court of Appeal today will clarify whether passengers can claim compensation for flight delays caused by technical faults.
A decision on the case is unlikely to be made today as judgments can take weeks. But once a judgment is made, it will set a binding precedent, which means all courts in England and Wales have to follow the ruling.
EU rules, which were clarified in October 2012, say passengers who are delayed over three hours can, in certain circumstances, claim up to €600 (about £500) per person, unless the delay is outside of the airline's control – known as an "extraordinary circumstance" (see our Flight Delays guide for help claiming).
Bad weather, industrial action and political problems are all deemed as extraordinary circumstances, but whether or not technical faults can be included in this list has been a point of contention. Many airlines seem to be deliberately trying to reject or stonewall claims using this defence.
But today's case being heard at the Court of Appeal will clarify whether or not a technical defect can be considered an extraordinary circumstance.
Many compensation claims where delays have been caused by technical faults have also been put on hold pending the result of this case, so once a judgment is made claims can be looked into.
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What is today's case about?
Today's case centres around Ronald Huzar, whose Jet2 flight from Malaga to Manchester on 26 October 2011 was delayed by 27 hours following a defect with the plane's fuel valve.
Huzar tried to claim compensation from Jet2 at Stockport County Court last June but lost in the first instance. However, he took his case to a solicitor's firm, which successfully appealed the decision in October 2013.
Jet2 then appealed this verdict, which is why the case is now being heard at the Court of Appeal today.
Solicitor's firm Bott & Co, which is representing Huzar, is today arguing that as a technical defect is inherent in the running of an aircraft, it shouldn't be considered an exceptional circumstance in the same way something like industrial action, a bird strike, or the volcanic ash cloud would be.
Isn't a case also being heard on how far back you can claim?
If you've been delayed at any time since 2005, you have a right to compensation under EU rules. Though in the UK, it's easier in practice if it's been since 2008 as you can only take your case through the small claims system within six years from the delayed flight in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and within five years in Scotland.
However many MoneySavers have reported that Thomson in particular will only consider claims about flights going back two years.
Last week passenger James Dawson, who is represented by the same solicitor's firm as Huzar, argued at the Court of Appeal that consumers have six years to bring a claim for flight delay compensation.
Dawson had suffered a six and a half hour delay on a flight from London Gatwick to the Dominican Republic in December 2006.
A verdict on this hearing is pending, but once the judgment has been made the decision will also set a binding precedent on all courts in England and Wales.
How do I claim?
To claim compensation for a delayed flight you need to meet certain criteria.
- It's only for EU flights. You must be on a plane that left from an EU airport, or arrived at an EU airport (but then it must be an EU airline).
- You can go back to 2005. This doesn't just apply to recent flights. If you've been delayed at any time since 2005, you have a right to compensation under EU rules. Though in the UK, it's easier in practice if it's been since 2008.
- It must have been the airline's fault to claim. The delay had to be under the airline's control. Staffing problems, poor planning, and under-booking all count. Political unrest or bad weather don't.
- Delays must be over three hours to get compensation. The amount you get is fixed solely on the flight length and delay time. So a 1,000km flight delayed by four hours is €250 (about £200) per person, while a 4,000km flight delayed for five hours is €600 ( about £500) per person.
- How to claim. Write to the airline stating the details of your delay and asking for the compensation. If it rejects you, depending on where you flew from and the airline you flew with, go to the CAA, the European Consumer Centre, or the regulator in the country you departed from to get a ruling. If it gets rejected again, you can take your complaint to the small claims court.
For full information, including free template letters, see our Flight Delays guide.