In case of a delayed or cancelled flight due to an extraordinary circumstance, you are not entitled to financial compensation. What rights do you have? When can airlines appeal to an extraordinary circumstance?
Your rights as an air passenger
Since 2005, your rights as an air passenger are determined by the EC Regulation 261/2004. It states that you are entitled to compensation in the event of a long flight delay or cancellation shortly before departure. Since its inception, Regulation 261/2004 has been supplemented with various judgments from the European Court of Justice. With the help of these judgments, the Regulation has been explained in more detail and more clarity has been created about the concept of extraordinary circumstances. This helps judges and courts rule more equally on compensation matters.
What is an extraordinary circumstance?
An extraordinary circumstance can be seen as a force majeure for the airline. If the situation is not inherent to the normal exercise of the activity of an airline, this is seen as an extraordinary circumstance. In that case, the airline is not responsible for the delay or cancellation of the flight. Regulation 261/2004 states that you are not entitled to compensation in such circumstances.
Imagine: you arrive at the airport and at check-in you are informed that your flight has been delayed due to a technical defect in the fuel system. You arrive at your final destination 4 hours later. A technical defect is seen as inherent to the normal exercise of the activity of the airline and within their control. You are therefore entitled to compensation.
Examples of extraordinary circumstances
It is often difficult to determine what an extraordinary circumstance is. Below are a few examples of extraordinary circumstances to illustrate this further:
- Extreme weather conditions, such as storm during the flight or dense fog during take-off and / or landing.
- Natural disasters, such as an ash cloud
- Strikes from third parties, such as air traffic control and baggage handling agents
- Medical emergency landings
The following situations cannot be considered an extraordinary circumstance:
- Technical defects to the aircraft
- Strike of the airline’s own staff
Delay due to technical defect
A delay or cancellation of your flight due to a technical defect to the aircraft is not an extraordinary circumstance. This has been determined in the Van der Lans and the Wallentin-Hermann judgments from the European Court of Justice. It has been judged that a technical problem with the aircraft is inherent to the business of an airline and is therefore not seen as an extraordinary circumstance. In this case you are entitled to financial compensation and you can claim this from the airline.
Rights in case of an extraordinary circumstance
Despite the fact that you are not entitled to compensation in the event of delay or cancellation of your flight due to an extraordinary circumstance, you are always entitled to care. Regulation 261/2004 stipulates that passengers are entitled to care in the event of a long delay or cancellation. The level of care depends on the delay and distance of your flight.
- Two hours or more is at flights of 1500 km or less
- Three hours or more for all flights within the EU of more than 1500 km and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 km
- Four hours or more is on all other flights
Care comes in the form of meals, refreshments and two free telephone calls, fax or e-mail messages. The amount and size of the meals and refreshments depends on the waiting time. If the airline does not offer you any refreshments, you can purchase these yourself and reclaim the costs from the airline. In that case it is important that you add copies of the receipts.