Technical defect or extraordinary circumstance?

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to an exceptional circumstance, you are not entitled to a reimbursement as stipulated in Regulation 261/2004. In 2008, the Wallentin-Hermann judgment clarified that technical defects cannot be considered extraordinary and are inherent to the activity of the airline.

What is an extraordinary circumstance?

An extraordinary circumstance is a situation of force majeure which forces the airline to cancel a flight or for the flight to arrive late to its destination. Regulation 261/2004 states that in that case you are not entitled to compensation because the airline cannot be held responsible for the delay or cancellation of your flight.

The reason for the judgment

The Wallentin-Hermann family had booked a flight with Alitalia from Vienna (Austria) via Rome to Brindisi (Italy). The passengers on this flight were told five minutes before departure that the flight had been cancelled. The flight was cancelled due to an engine failure in the turbine (technical failure). They were rerouted and arrived at their final destination 4 hours and 20 minutes late.

Technical defect an extraordinary circumstance?

The Wallentin-Hermann family claimed financial compensation because their flight was cancelled shortly before departure and they arrived at their destination 4 hours and 20 minutes later than planned. Alitalia rejected this request because it considered that a technical defect was an exceptional circumstance and that the family was therefore not entitled to financial compensation. During the court case, a number of preliminary questions were raised to the European Court of Justice. One of these questions was whether a technical problem can be considered a situation of force majeure, or an extraordinary circumstance when it causes the cancellation of the flight.

Judgment: technical defects are not an extraordinary circumstance

The European Court of Justice has determined that technical defects are part of the daily activity of an airline. Technical problems are inextricably linked to the operation of an aircraft. Technical problems identified during maintenance or arising from maintenance errors are therefore not an exceptional circumstance.


A technical defect is only an extraordinary circumstance if the technical defect arises from events that are not part of the daily operations of an airline. In these situations, the airline has had no influence on the occurrence of the technical defect and they are dealing with a situation of force majeure.  Examples of events that can be considered extraordinary are a hidden manufacturing defect, sabotage or terrorism.

Right to compensation in the event of cancellation or delay of the flight due to a technical defect

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to a technical defect, or a technical problem, this is usually not considered to be an extraordinary circumstance. You are therefore entitled to financial compensation for the loss of time suffered.