A judge has ruled that a six-month-old baby was entitled to more than £300 in flight delay compensation, in a move which could open the floodgates for a huge number of claims on behalf of under-2s.

One firm of solicitors which specialises in flight delays estimates the ruling could lead to claims totalling £10 million, with passengers potentially able to claim back to 2011.

The judge at Liverpool County Court found the youngster was entitled to compensation under European flight delay law, as her parents had paid a £20 administration fee for her flight, which he deemed to be a fare.

The family were delayed for nine hours on a flight from Lanzarote to Birmingham in December 2015, when the baby was just six months old.

Ryanair, which had already paid compensation to the other three members of the youngster's family, argued that she was a not a passenger with a confirmed reservation (as she sat on her dad's knee for the flight), and that she was travelling for free, and so was not entitled to compensation. It says it will appeal the ruling and has threatened to increase its infant fees if it loses.

See our Flight Delays guide for more on your rights and our free reclaim tool.

Court case won't set a legally binding precedent

The compensation rules come from the EU261/2004 flight delay law, which says:

"This Regulation shall not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public."

But Judge Pearce said: "She was not “travelling free of charge” in the ordinary meaning of the words. Her father had to pay for her to travel; and the defendant (Ryanair) took her as a passenger.

"Accordingly, in my view it cannot be said that she was travelling free of charge."

As the case was heard at a county court level, it won't set a legally binding precedent, meaning other courts won't have to follow its example. But if the argument is taken to higher courts, the eventual ruling could set a precedent - and in the meantime it's likely to trigger a wave of claims.

Flight delay compensation DOES apply to babies travelling on parents' laps, court rules
Flight delay compensation DOES apply to babies travelling on parents' laps, court rules

UK regulator the Civil Aviation Authority, citing EU guidelines, believes that if there has been a payment for a child to go on the plane, then the regulation applies. It says this has always been the case, even prior to the county court ruling.

We're asking other airlines if their policies on claims are likely to change in the wake of this ruling, and will update this story when we know more.

Martin Lewis
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'Another pro-passenger decision'

Flight delay solicitors Bott & Co estimate that claims in excess of £10m could be filed as a result of this ruling. The firm's flight delay legal expert Kevin Clarke said: "We have always considered this to be a straightforward argument and we welcome this judgment from the court.

"The history of this regulation has been legal challenge after legal challenge from the airline industry and we are pleased the court has provided another pro-passenger decision.

"This is another significant judgment that will assist UK passengers in claiming the compensation to which they are entitled."

What does Ryanair say?

A spokesman for Ryanair said: "We have instructed our lawyers to immediately appeal this daft ruling. It is absurd that infants under 2 years of age who do not pay an air fare or occupy a seat, can now apply for up to €250 EU261 ‘compensation’ for a flight delay, when their accompanying adults will already have been compensated.

"In this case, the two parents and a sister have already received €1,200 in EU261 compensation, which is almost four times the three one-way airfares they paid of just £104. This is compo culture gone mad. If this ruling is not overturned we will have to consider increasing the infant fee from €20 to €40 to cover these idiotic infant compo claims."