Two recent Court of Appeal rulings have given delayed passengers much greater chance of claiming significant amounts of money back from tardy airlines.
The airline industry was dealt a new blow last week when the Court of Appeal ruled that passengers could claim compensation for delays going back as far as six years.
Thomson Airways had maintained that customers could only claim for delays or cancellations that took place in the previous two years, in accordance with the Montreal Convention which governs international air travel.
Statute of limitations
But judges have now ruled that victims have a six-year window in which to seek compensation, in line with the statute of limitations that applies to the majority of legal claims in the UK.
The decision follows hard on the heels of another Court of Appeal judgment, which stated that airlines could not turn down claims for delays that had resulted from their own technical problems.
These rulings have significantly widened the scope of EU legislation which gives passengers the right to claim payouts worth hundreds of pounds if they are subject to long delays or cancelled flights.
So how do the rules on claiming work?
1. Not all flights qualify for compensation.
They must meet at least one of two criteria.
Either the airline is an EU-based firm, such as Lufthansa or Aer Lingus. Or the flight took off and/or landed in the EU.
For travellers based in the UK, the majority of trips will qualify.
But if you were to fly Swiss Air from Zurich to, say, Buenos Aires, the EU rules would offer you no protection as Switzerland is not part of the EU.
If your Swiss Air journey to Argentina began in the UK, however, and you were simply changing in Zurich, you would be covered.
2. The delay must be a minimum of three hours.
If it’s not, you won’t get any money unless the flight is cancelled.
The amount you are entitled to, however, increases based on the length both of the journey and the delay.
The lowest claimable amount is €250 (about £200), which you would get for a three-hour delay on a flight no farther than 1,500km (930 miles) – that’s about the distance from Manchester to Madrid.
For flights up to 3,500km (2,175 miles), which covers most of Europe from the UK, the amount rises to €400 (£325).
For longer flights, delays of between three and four hours entitle you to €300 (£240). Any longer, and you could get €600 (£480) in compensation.
3. Your airline has to be responsible.
There is an exemption for "extraordinary circumstances", so if an airport is forced to close due to bad weather, as happened at Gatwick last Christmas, you can’t claim money back from your airline.
But the recent Court of Appeal ruling on what constitutes "extraordinary" means airlines can no longer refuse to pay out because of technical hitches such as engine faults or malfunctioning toilets.
Carriers are thought to have turned down thousands of claims for reasons such as these over the past few years.
If this applies to you, it could be worth re-submitting your complaint.
4. The delay must have been in the previous six years.
Provided no more than six years have passed since the delay, you can submit a claim, as the Court of Appeal has just ruled.
Solicitors Bott & Co, which have been involved in both recent cases, have an online flight delay checker.
This analyses data from thousands of flights since 2008 to see whether passengers have any chance of obtaining compensation for a delay or cancellation.
All you have to do is submit your flight number and the date of travel to find out whether you can claim.
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