European court orders airlines to pay compensation for delays from mechanical failures

For years, airlines operating in Europe have had to pay compensation to delayed passengers, unless the delay was an "extraordinary circumstance." Airlines have characterized mechanical failures as extraordinary circumstances, and refused to pay out when their planes weren't working properly.

But last week, the European Court of Justice ruled against Dutch airline KLM in a case over compensation for mechanical failures. This has opened the gates to claims against all of Europe's airlines, from thousands of passengers who've faced delays due to mechanical failures.

Especially vulnerable are the low-cost airlines like Ryanair, who have made it a policy to abuse and ridicule passengers ("You're not getting a refund so fuck off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?" -Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary) who seek compensation for delays.

However, the battle is far from over. Since the supreme court verdict, thousands of people who have tried to lodge a claim have been fobbed off by airlines. This week, Britain's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, began enforcement action against Ryanair to make the budget airline pay compensation to thousands of delayed passengers in the wake of the European court judgment.

Londoner Alan Macdonald was delayed eight hours when his Ryanair flight from Malta to London was grounded. Check-in staff and the captain blamed a technical fault, but when passengers tried to claim, Ryanair mysteriously changed its story. "Adverse weather conditions" were suddenly the cause and, since these counted as "extraordinary circumstances" beyond the airline's control, it insisted compensation was not payable.

"It was only in a letter sent a month after my claim that weather was mentioned," Macdonald says. "In their initial email to passengers, they declared the delay as being due to unspecified 'exceptional circumstances' and provided a link to an out-of-date list of such circumstances, including those that have been declared null in UK courts. This led other passengers to think they have no scope to claim."

Floodgates open for flight delay claims [Anna Tims/The Guardian]

(Image: Delay at Larnaca Airport, Cyprus, Mark Hodson, CC-BY)