Tens of thousands of airline passengers are in line for compensation for flight delays after a European court ruling opened the floodgates for claims worth millions of pounds.
Travelers will be able to claim up to £438 each following a ruling that operators must pay out for late or cancelled flights caused by technical faults on aircraft. It is likely that claims could be made against airlines such as Ryanair, Flybe, Thomas Cook, Wizz Air and Jet2.
Under European Union rules introduced a decade ago, airlines must pay compensation for delays to flights other than those caused by “extraordinary circumstances” such as severe weather or security risks.
Large numbers of airlines insisted that technical problems on aircraft should be classed as extraordinary because they could not be foreseen.
The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday in a case brought against the Dutch airline KLM that technical problems did not fall under the heading of extraordinary circumstances.
In a separate move, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that it had launched enforcement action against Ryanair over its alleged refusal to abide by previous court rulings. It said it would seek a court order “if the airline remains non-compliant”.
The move is expected to lead to a spike in the number of compensation claims against airlines, with one company of solicitors, Bolt & Co, insisting that it had 15,000 clients with claims.
Kevin Clarke, a flight delay lawyer, said: “The vast majority of technical defects are spontaneous and unpredictable; that is the nature of air travel. If there are any signs whatsoever that a part on a plane is on the verge of breaking, it is automatically replaced.
“On that basis, if KLM had won, the vast majority of technical problems might have been classed as extraordinary circumstances. Fortunately the courts have once again ruled in favour of consumers. We are delighted with this outcome.”
European regulations entitle passengers to €600 (£438) if they are delayed by three hours or more departing or arriving on an EU-based airline. In a separate move, airlines must also allow passengers to claim compensation up to six years after a delay, even though some firms operate a cut-off point of just two years.
The CAA has already threatened enforcement action against airlines that failed to abide by the rules. This led to Jet2, Aer Lingus and Wizz Air changing their approach to compensation.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: “We are determined to ensure all airlines comply with this regulation. That is why we are announcing this latest action against Ryanair.”
Fiona Kearns, Ryanair’s director of customer service, said that the airline “fully complies” with regulations.