No-frills airline Ryanair broke EU law when it refused compensation to a passenger stranded by the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, according to a court ruling yesterday, while a district judge has also ruled that travel group Thomas Cook (Xetra: A0MR3W - news) should have compensated a couple whose plane was delayed.
These two rulings are expected to trigger a wave of claims from other passengers, so what are your rights when your plane is delayed or flight cancelled, and how can you claim. The following answers may help.
= What is significant about the rulings against Ryanair and Thomas Cook? =
The two rulings concerned flight delays, which the airline operators claimed were outside their control. The Ryanair flight was grounded because of a volcanic ash cloud, while in the Thomas Cook case, the flight was delayed because of technical difficulties.
This is important because EU law allows passengers to claim between £200 and £480 compensation for delays over three hours in EU countries or on EU airlines. However, airlines have traditionally had a get out clause they only had to pay cash if the delay turned out to be the airline's fault.
In the Thomas Cook case, the airline had claimed the technical difficulty with the plane was not the fault of the airline. However At Stoke-on-Trent County Court on Monday, District Judge Peter Rank disagreed and awarded a couple €800 (£687).
Ryanair had claimed that the ash cloud that had grounded thousands of flights between April (Paris: FR0004037125 - news) 15 and 22 should be treated as an extraordinary event, and so it did not have to pay for passenger care when they were stranded. However, the EU court overturned Ryanair's appeal and said that customers needed compensation for access to essential services in the event of issues such as the ash cloud.
= But my flights have been delayed lots of times. Why have I never been offered compensation? =
The airlines don't tend to hand out compensation on a plate, so if you want it you have to ask.
= It all sounds very complicated. How can I tell whether an airline will compensate me? =
If your flight has been delayed for more than three hours, you may be entitled to the compensation. However, if it came from a non-EU country on a non-EU airline, you will not be able to claim under EU rules.
= How much could I get? =
Compensation for flight delay is between £200 and £480, depending on how delayed your flight is and how far you are travelling.
= What difference do the two rulings above make to all this? =
Airlines have been very good at claiming that delays are not their fault and not giving compensation. The rulings above make it more difficult for them to do so. In addition, passengers who are stranded somewhere due to adverse weather conditions are be entitled to money for food and accommodation.
= Would I get a refund on my ticket price as well as compensation? =
Potentially. If your flight is delayed by five hours or more and you decide not to travel, and the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of what airline you were flying with, you could get your ticket cost back too. If you are on an EU airline and landed at an EU airport, you are also likely to be eligible for a refund. Even if you aren't on the plane, oddly, you could get the compensation and the refund. However, if you decide to have a refund you lose your right to passenger care.
= If only I had known sooner I would have claimed for delays before. Can I still do it? =
Yes, as long as your flight was after February 17 2005, you can still reclaim.
= How do I do it? =
Contact the airline in the first instance. There is no standard timescale for replying to a letter of complaint. There is also no ombudsman. If you are unhappy with the airline's response you can complain to the Civil Aviation Authority, or the European Consumer Centre http://www.ukecc.net / or the regulator in the country from which the aircraft departed.