WITH the Easter break only two weeks away and summer fast approaching, holiday season will soon be upon us.

 

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Many will be heading to Europe - and for the vast majority, travel plans will run on schedule.

Not everyone will be so lucky, however, and for some the misery and inconvenience of delayed or cancelled flights can add a sour note to a holiday.

So it is worth remembering that passengers have rights to compensation - an entitlement that airlines are sometimes shy to mention, if not downright obstructive about paying out.

The Herald recently reported on the David and Goliath battle between Scottish holidaymaker, Donald Cowan, and no-frills airline, Ryanair, who were finally forced to pay £600 compensation to Mr Cowan and his wife over an 18 hour flight delay only after the retired policeman took the carrier to the small claims court in Alloa.

Everything from technical faults with the wing, a lightning strike and night-time curfews were cited by the airline as "extraordinary circumstances" which negated a payout, but the Sheriff was unimpressed.

Mr Cowan finally received his cheque this month - two years after his delayed Fuerteventura-Prestwick flight.

Such obfuscation by the airline industry is not unusual - the exception is a passenger with the determination and know-how to challenge them.

Raymond Veldkamp, of the website Flight-Delayed.co.uk, which champions the rights of consumers, said that in their experience some 91 per cent of passengers' claims are initially rejected by airlines.

He said: "Passengers are usually fobbed off with vouchers for a free meal or refreshment, while in reality, they are legally entitled to a much higher compensation. Airlines do not agree with the current legislation and try to mark every case as a situation of 'force majeure'. Ill crew members, broken cockpit doors, congested toilets and even a swarm of bees that clung to a wing: we receive the oddest justifications on a daily basis."

Britons miss out on an estimated £500 million a year in compensation. Mr Cowan's case alone would cost Ryanair almost £60,000 if every passenger on that flight lodged a claim - which they are still entitled to do.

Passengers travelling within the EU are legally entitled to compensation of up to €600 (£430) if they arrive at their final destination more than three hours later than planned, whether their flight was delayed, cancelled or overbooked.

The sore point is what might constitute "extraordinary circumstances" - the airlines' only get-out clause.

This was partially cleared up in June last year with the landmark Huzar vs Jet2 case, which ruled that a technical defect was not grounds to refuse compensation.

This was a bitter blow to the industry.

Jet2 subsequently argued that it had the right to postpone payout pending the outcome of a similar case ongoing in the Netherlands. Ryanair, Thomas Cook and WizzAir jumped on the bandwagon.

Their hopes were finally dashed in February, however, after Liverpool holidaymaker Kim Allen - delayed seven hours by a technical fault in 2012 - successfully challenged Jet2 in court.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said the judge.

For too many holidaymakers, a flight delay is only the beginning of a much longer wait for justice.