Ok, so your plane was late by 4 hours and you've submitted your claim for flight delay compensation. Is that it? Are you guaranteed to receive compensation for the flight delay?
The answer is, It depends on the reason for the flight delay. In essence, delays to flights that are within the control of the airline are likely to succeed but flight delays outside the airline’s control will most likely not result in flight delay compensation.
Extraordinary Circumstances and how they might affect your flight compensation claim
This is because, there is a defence in the EU regulations called ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’. These are things like bad weather at the departure or arrival airport, strikes by air traffic control or fire/bomb alerts at airports. Such situations are clearly beyond the airline’s control and so it would be unfair for them to have to pay flight delay compensation in those circumstances.
Some strange extraordinary circumstances do crop up from time to time. Remember the Icelandic volcano which spewed volcanic dust all over Europe? That would be an extraordinary circumstance defence to a claim for flight delay compensation. Other examples are drunk or unruly passengers having to be taken off the plane or, incredibly, a bee becoming lodged in a sensor on a (yes this is right) Flybe Flight.
So will Extraordinary Circumstances always get the airlines off the hook?
Often airlines will use the phrase ‘extraordinary circumstance’ where legally there is no such defence to a claim for flight delay compensation. We see this many times with standard letters claiming an ‘inherent aircraft defect’ (i.e. an aircraft design fault) or a technical issue. The problem for the airlines is that technical issues have been found by the courts not to be a valid defence to a claim for flight delay compensation and, where they claim an inherent defect, they have to provide proof of the defect. They rarely do.
In fact, we commonly receive letters from airlines quoting an extraordinary circumstance but they have ofyen told their passengers something else entirely. When we sent a recent claim for flight delay compensation to Ryanair, we got a letter back saying there had been a technical issue with the aircraft (not very clever as this is not an allowable extraordinary circumstance defence to a claim for flight delay compensation). They had told the passengers on the flight however that there were not enough crew to man the flight!
So what is the moral of the story? Always check any defence to a claim for flight delay compensation very carefully. Some are a proper excuse for a flight delay but many are not.