If you've suffered a lengthy flight delay, don't be put off taking the airline to court to claim the compensation you're rightly owed. Just ask one MoneySaver, who won a case against Thomson.

Jeremy Noott, a radio trainer and presenter from North Yorkshire, was recently awarded €1,600 (£1,238) in compensation by a judge at York County Court after his family of four were delayed for nearly 21 hours on a Thomson flight. (See our Flight Delays guide for information on how to claim.)

They were held up on a trip from the Greek island of Samos to Manchester in 2010, when a fault was discovered on the aircraft.

EU rules, which were clarified last October, say passengers whose flights are significantly delayed can, in certain circumstances, claim up to €600 (£504) per person. This dates back to 2005, although you may have difficultly claiming for flights before 2007 in the UK.

But many airlines seem to be deliberately trying to reject or stonewall claims.

Thomson, in particular, is often accused of not playing ball. Many MoneySavers have reported it will only consider claims about flights going back two years – which is incorrect, under the EU rules.

If you're struggling to get the airline to pay up there are other avenues to go down, including taking your case to the relevant European regulator, to the European Consumer Centre, or you can take your case to the small claims court yourself.

How did Jeremy do it?

Jeremy initially wrote to Thomson last autumn, after reading on MoneySavingExpert.com about the floodgates being opened for flight delays (see the Flight delay compensation floodgates open MSE News story). But it told him he didn't have a case.

On asking Thomson to reconsider his case, it refused, so Jeremy took his complaint to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

However, as the CAA can only look into claims about flights either departing from the UK (any airline), or departing from a non-EU country and arriving in the UK (EU airlines only), it told Jeremy he needed to take his case to the equivalent Greek body instead.

Jeremy decided to skip this step and take his case straight to court with the help of his father, a retired pilot.

Thomson argued that the fault with the aircraft was out of its control and it therefore wasn't liable for the delay. But the judge ruled in Jeremy's favour and agreed Thomson hadn't done everything in its power to keep delays to a minimum following the discovery of the fault on an earlier flight that day.

Jeremy received his flight delay compensation, plus legal costs, by cheque from Thomson this month, although an admin error means he's still waiting to receive £50 of the final sum.

He says: "I'm very relieved and delighted by the outcome, although I'm surprised by the level of wrong information supplied by the airline in a court case. But in the end, that was its undoing.

"Thank you Martin and the MoneySavingExpert.com team for providing the resources and help on the website."

Fight for your rights

Jeremy's success comes as only this month a judge at Macclesfield County Court ruled in favour of a passenger whose Easyjet flight from Gatwick was delayed after the aircraft was held up following bad weather on an earlier flight.

The judge said the airline couldn't demonstrate it had done everything in its power to prevent the delay.

While neither cases outlined above are binding as they were heard at a county court, it's still worth making a claim and citing them as an example. Why should you be penalised if the airline chose a tight turnaround time, meaning more chance of it suffering delays? If nothing else, it will help set a precedent.

What Thomson says

A spokesman for Thomson says: "Thomson Airways operates a fair and thorough process to deal with EU delay claims in line with the regulation. The law in this area is complex and many situations will not result in an entitlement to compensation. The clause 'extraordinary circumstances' does encompass a number of eventualities, including technical issues with the aircraft.

"We'd like to reassure customers that we are committed to maintaining an excellent on-time performance across our flying programme, and we work hard to maintain the title of most on-time charter airline."

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 2007.
  • 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 (£210) per person, while a 4,000km flight delayed for five hours is €600 (£504) 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.