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Airlines must pay for delays

AIR passengers will be entitled to greater levels of financial compensation for flight delays after two legal rulings that offer more protection to travellers.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ordered Ryanair to pay "reasonable" compensation to passengers stranded by the 2010 Icelandic volcano eruption.

And on Wednesday, a court in England awarded a couple £680 after a Thomas Cook flight from Tenerife in 2009 was delayed by 22 hours.

It followed an ECJ ruling in October that travellers should have the right to compensation of up to £480, plus expenses, for delays of more than three hours caused by failures such as technical faults or lack of air crew.

Yesterday's ECJ decision means carriers also have an obligation to provide care if people are stranded due to cancellations arising from "extraordinary circumstances".

That includes refreshments, meals, accommodation, transport to the accommodation and communication costs.

The ECJ ruling came after passenger Denise McDonagh, who was stranded for a week in Portugal during the ash cloud crisis, claimed costs from the airline.

She said she had not been provided with any care and demanded compensation of almost €1130 (£970) to cover meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport.

An Irish court will now decide the amount of compensation to which Ms McDonagh, of Dublin, is entitled.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary called the ECJ ruling crazy and warned it could lead to ticket price rises.

A statement from the airline said: "Ryanair regrets the decision of the ECJ which allows passengers to claim for flight delays which are clearly and unambiguously outside of an airline's control.

"The decision will materially increase the cost of flying across Europe and consumer airfares will increase as airlines will be obliged to recover the cost of these claims from their customers, because the defective European regulation does not allow us to recover such costs from the governments or unions who are responsible for over 95% of flight delays in Europe."

The ECJ stated it recognised claims could have "substantial negative economic consequences" for airlines, but said a high level of protection must be afforded to passengers.

The judgment said: "Air carriers should, as experienced operators, foresee costs linked to the fulfilment of their obligation to provide care.

"Furthermore, they may pass on the costs incurred to airline ticket prices."

Much of northern Europe's airspace was closed for more than a week in April 2010, as the Icelandic volcano spewed ash into the atmosphere. Aviation officials feared the ash could stop jet engines

Ryanair has paid out about €26.1 million (£22m) in compensation to passengers caught in the ash cloud delays.

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