A big victory for the put-upon airline passenger

After a four-hour delay to a Ryanair flight out of Edinburgh at the end of last year, I wrote the usual letter asking for compensation under EU regulation 26/2004.

I was ultimately told: “The delay was caused by an unexpected safety/technical problem and as a consequence, apart from the refreshment vouchers which were issued in accordance with EU directive 261, no additional compensation was due to passengers.” This was irritating, if entirely expected.

Under EU law, passengers can get up to £470 in compensation if their plane arrives at its final destination more than three hours late. However, there are exceptions to the rule: if the delay is caused by “extraordinary circumstances” there is no need for the airline to pay out.

You may think that an extraordinary circumstance is something that is not within the control of an airline, such as bad weather or birds in engines.

The airlines appear to disagree: they have defined it as being anything that doesn’t go perfectly – so all delays caused by technical problems have been considered exceptions.

Until now, challenges to this stance had gone nowhere. But last week, Ronald Huzar, who had been refused a payout by Jet2.com after a 27-hour delay caused by a wiring defect, won his case against the airline.

The result? Ordinary technical faults can no longer be considered extraordinary. Huzar got £940 and is “ecstatic” for “everyone out there claiming flight compensation”.

Another case last week established that passengers will be able to claim for cases going back six years. Do the sums and it looks like the industry might have to pay out £3.89bn for historic claims.

I’m not convinced this is for the best – will it give airlines an incentive to work harder to prevent technical faults, or an incentive to underplay the risks? And given that the compensation is not connected to how much you paid for your flight, is it really reasonable for everyone to claim every time?

If you paid £50 for a flight and didn’t much mind waiting for three hours, does it make sense to demand £500 out of an airline’s revenues?

Still, whatever your view on the ethics, it seems that you will have a much better chance than before of getting the compensation – possibly even enough to cover the costs of all the pointless duty-free purchases you made while wandering miserably around the terminal waiting to be given refreshment vouchers.

How? Simple. Write to the airline quoting both the relevant EU legislation number quoted above and your flight details. You can also download a template letter to make it even easier at Moneysavingexpert.com. 

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