Thousands more passengers who have missed connecting flights with Emirates could now be able to claim compensation after the Supreme Court refused its appeal to argue they were not eligible.

The airline had argued that it should not have to pay passengers who arrive at their destination late after missing their connection at a non-EU airport, even if they meet the usual compensation criteria.

Under EU law, passengers on long-haul flights from EU airports may be due at least €300 (£260) in compensation if their flight is delayed by over three hours and it's the airline's fault, even if their airline is not EU-based.

But the Supreme Court has refused Emirates' appeal, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK regulator, is now calling on the firm to pay compensation to passengers immediately.

What happened?

The row started in February last year when the CAA demanded five non-EU airlines – American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines – change their policy of failing to pay compensation to passengers who arrive at their destination late after missing their connection at a non-EU airport and who meet other compensation criteria.

Emirates took the fight to the Court of Appeal, but had its case thrown out in October last year. Three of the other airlines initially said they were reviewing the judgment but all four have agreed to comply with it.

Emirates asked the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against the decision, but it was today announced that it had been refused.

I was delayed after missing a connecting flight – what does the ruling mean for me?

If you were delayed on the first leg of your journey, missed a connecting flight as a result and arrived at your final destination at least three hours late, you may be able to claim compensation of up to €600 (£530) – whether the final destination is within or outside the EU.

You'll need to meet the usual other criteria for flight delay claims under EU law though – eg, the original delay must have been the airline's fault. See full info in our Flight Delays guide.

Bear in mind that the ruling only covers a specific set of circumstances, and you can probably only claim if:

  • Your missed connection was caused by a problem with a flight from an EU airport. If you were delayed at your connection for some other reason, you won't be able to claim.
  • Your multiple flights must be part of a single booking. You can't claim for a missed connection if the flights were booked separately, even if they were with the same airline.
  • You arrived at the final destination on your booking at least three hours late. If, for example, you arrived at your connecting airport four hours late but still had time to make your connection, you can't claim.

I think I'm owed compensation – how do I claim?

What you need to do depends on how long ago your flight was delayed, and whether you've already tried to claim:

  • If you haven't already claimed, do so. You can do this using our free flight delay tool.
  • If your delayed flight was within the past six years, you claimed and were turned down by Emirates, claim again. Today's news is likely to help your case. Go back to Emirates.
  • If your delayed flight was more than six years ago, it's difficult. Your ultimate route of appeal is to go to court. But under the statute of limitations, a passenger only has six years from the delay to take an airline to court, so it's highly unlikely the airline will pay out if it's been more than six years (though there's no harm resubmitting your claim to the airline anyway).

See our Flight Delays guide for more information.

What does the CAA say?

Chief executive Andrew Haines said: "Emirates' priority should be looking after its passengers, not finding ways in which they can prevent passengers accessing their rights.

"They have failed in their attempts to overturn the Court of Appeal judgment, which now means that millions of pounds' worth of compensation is due to its customers. It is time for Emirates to pay what is owed."

What does Emirates say?

A spokesperson confirmed Emirates will not be trying to appeal against the decision any further.

She said: "We are very disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling denying us leave to appeal against the earlier judgment of the High Court in relation to the application of regulation EC261 to flights of non-community carriers [ie, not EU, European Economic Area or Swiss airlines] originating outside of the EU. 

"As one of the world's largest airlines, we always comply with all legal requirements and based on the judgment, we'll advise customers of our approach in due course."