Passengers struggling to claim compensation for flight delays caused by technical faults or for incidents going back further than two years got a big boost today as the Supreme Court blocked two airlines' attempts to wriggle out of paying claims.

A number of airlines had put claims on these two specific issues on hold while two court cases being fought by Thomson and Jet2 were decided (see our Flight Delays guide to claim compensation for delays and cancelled flights).

But the Supreme Court has today announced that it has refused Jet2 and Thomson's separate appeal requests, meaning the original Court of Appeal judgment in each matter stands.

Legal sources add that as the Supreme Court is the UK's final court of appeal, there's no realistic prospect of the airlines being able to appeal this decision any further.

As we have two binding decisions from the Court of Appeal, it means:

  • Under the law you can claim for flights going back up to six years.
  • Under the law you can claim for technical problems that haven't been caused by "extraordinary circumstances". So normal technical problems such as component failure or general wear and tear should not be considered "extraordinary".

Technically these rules only apply to cases heard in English and Welsh courts, but airlines and courts based in Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to use these rulings when considering cases.

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it expects airlines to abide by these rules when considering claims.

So for flight claims it means the following:

  • I've not yet submitted a flight claim. You should do so now as airlines can no longer put them on hold.

  • My flight claim is on hold. You should ask the airline or court which stayed the case to reopen it. The CAA says it expects airlines to do this automatically, while courts should also do the same. However it's worth giving them a nudge.

  • My claim has already been rejected. If your case was previously rejected by the airline, you should ask for the airline to reconsider it in the light of the judgment, as long as you haven't already agreed a settlement with it. If your claim has already been decided by a court, you can only ask to appeal the decision within 21 days of the judgment. After that it's unfortunately it's too late to take it back to court.

Passengers can 'get on with getting their money back'

Martin Lewis, creator, says: "The clarity of this ruling is crucial for thousands frustrated by the airlines' stubborn attitude on this issue.

"With the many thousands who have reclaimed through the free MSE template letters there has been a split reaction from the airlines. Some have paid out £100s or £1,000s in a couple of weeks, no problem. Others kick, spit and make excuses, or just ignore people's legitimate rights.

"The clarity of this ruling means many people stuck in a legal quagmire of delay and who felt forced to pay a company to reclaim when it should be a relatively simple procedure can get on with getting money back.

"Quite simply, the ruling states airlines are responsible for technical faults in all but extraordinary circumstances and that you can reclaim back at least six years. I would urge anyone who has been rejected on these grounds to pick up their pen and paper immediately and write back to reopen their case."

Martin Lewis
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So what actually happened?

Thomson argued that claims can only be looked at going back two years, while Jet2 was trying to use the defence that unforeseeable technical faults that caused flight delays and cancellations were out of its hands, meaning compensation shouldn't be due.

The airlines, which were acting separately, both lost their cases at county court level and then again at the Court of Appeal in June this year (see the You can claim from six years back, not two and the Airlines should pay compensation for technical fault delays MSE News stories).

However, the airlines then requested permission to appeal the decisions at the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK. It's the Supreme Court's decision, which has been made today.

Can airlines challenge the Supreme Court's decision?

Legal sources say airlines can't challenge the Supreme Court's decision. They add that as the Supreme Court is the UK's final court of appeal, there's no realistic prospect of the airlines being able to appeal this decision at the European Court of Justice either.

Individual companies can't appeal directly to the European Court of Justice – they have to be referred to it by a court – and in both these cases the Supreme Court won't be doing that.

What do the airline's say?

Nathan Stower, chief executive of the body representing UK airlines, the British Air Transport Association (BATA), says: "Today's Supreme Court decision is both surprising and disappointing. UK airlines support the principle of passenger protection and always meet their legal obligations.

"However, the rules should be clear, affordable and proportionate for the sake of passengers and airlines. The current system fails those tests and this decision will further increase costs which ultimately are borne by all passengers.

"Vital reform of the EU regulation has recently stalled in Brussels due to disagreements between the Spanish and UK governments over Gibraltar. These differences must now be urgently resolved to allow the necessary reforms to proceed."

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