A couple of days ago, a court in Luxembourg ruled that spontaneous mechanical issues (those that are not discovered during routine maintenance) do not constitute an extraordinary event outside of the airline’s control and that they do not excuse the carrier from paying flight delay compensation. And that’s good for travelers.
Let’s back up a bit: EC 261/2004 is the ruling that governs flight delay and cancellation compensation into/out of EU airspace, and it’s not light on the airlines. A good explanation of your rights are found in this article, but the bottom line is that, if your flight is delayed for a “non-extraordinary” situation, such as weather, a strike or a security threat. Cash compensation is due in many cases, and they’ll cover your other costs in most cases. Whether your flight is covered depends on who you are flying and where you are flying them.
But here’s where it gets interesting: When this regulation came into effect, airlines considered mechanical delays to be “extraordinary circumstances,” i.e., if the pilot discovered an issue right before take-off, airlines would deem it unpredictable and not pay compensation. The airlines’ argument, which does not seem unreasonable, is that planes are awfully big creatures, and that it would unrealistic to expect everything to work perfectly all the time. And that was exactly the argument that the court used to rule against them. In particular, the court stated that because airlines are such complex operations, they should expect last-minute mechanical issues and be prepared to handle them. That’s a very tough ruling for the airline, as anyone who has ever flown knows how frequently flights get delayed at the gate because a light on the dashboard started blinking. Cash compensation kicks in at the 3-hour mark.
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