Regulation 261/2004 stipulates that you, as an airline passenger, are eligible to financial compensation for a cancelled flight. The right to compensation in the case of delay is not clearly defined in the Regulation. With the arrival of the Sturgeon ruling in 2009, the European Court clarified this issue.
The reason for the judgment
The Sturgeon family had booked a return flight from Frankfurt (Germany) to Toronto (Canada). After checking in for the return flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, passengers were informed that the flight had been cancelled. The next day they checked in for a flight whose flight number matched that of the original booking. The passengers eventually arrived in Toronto with a delay of about 25 hours.
Flight delayed, right to compensation?
The Sturgeon family felt that there was a cancelled flight. However, the airline considered that there was a delay, which, in its opinion, would mean the passengers would not be entitled to compensation. According to the airline, under Regulation 261/2004 only passengers of a cancelled flight were eligible for compensation.
Preliminary questions to the European Court
In the situation of the Sturgeon family, it was unclear whether passengers were entitled to compensation, because the flight was delayed and not cancelled. As a result, a number of preliminary questions were put to the European Court of Justice. One of these questions was whether Regulation 261/2004 should be interpreted in such a way that passengers of delayed flights can be equated with passengers of cancelled flights. The answer would make it clear whether passengers with delayed flights are also entitled to compensation.
Answer from the European Court
The European Court of Justice stated that the text of the Regulation does not show that the passengers of a delayed flight are entitled to financial compensation. However, it is necessary to look not only at the wording of the Regulation, but also at the context and purpose of the Regulation.
Purpose of Regulation 261/2004
The purpose of the Regulation is to protect air passengers if they are faced with a denied boarding, cancellation or delay of the flight. If passengers of delayed flights are not entitled to compensation, they would not be treated equally with passengers of cancelled flights, while they would have a comparable loss of time.
Judgment of the European Court of Justice
The European Court of Justice has therefore decided that passengers of delayed flights can also claim compensation. If you have had a delayed flight, you are entitled to compensation if you have been confronted with an arrival delay of at least three hours. If you were on a flight of more than 3,500 km and it was delayed by more than three hours but less than four hours, you are entitled to 50% of the compensation.