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Airlines must pay for delays, says court

EUROPEAN AIRLINES will have to compensate passengers by up to €600 if their flights are delayed by over three hours following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice yesterday.

Europe’s highest court upheld a 2009 decision which ruled that passengers flying within the EU who suffer significant flight delays have the same rights to compensation as passengers whose flights are cancelled.

It will pave the way for passengers to claim millions in compensation. But consumer advocates said they did not anticipate airlines would make it easy for delayed people to claim.

“The Court of Justice has confirmed its previous ruling that passengers whose flights have been delayed for a long time may be compensated,” the court said. Carriers would be exempt if delays were due to “extraordinary circumstance” but it did not outline what this might be. Bad weather will allow airlines sidestep responsibility but earlier this month the court said many cases of industrial action were not valid excuses.

The European Consumer Organisation welcomed the ruling but said the EU had to do more to reinforce passenger rights. Director general Monique Goyens said the ruling highlighted airlines’ “often lamentable lack of compliance with their legal duties to passengers”.

Raymond Veldkamp, head of Flight Delayed, an EU-wide service which helps consumers get compensation, said he did not believe the ruling would make it easier for passengers to get money. “Most of the time get fobbed off with vouchers for a free meal or a refreshment, while in reality they are legally entitled to a much higher compensation,” he said.

The European Court of Justice ruled on two cases. The first involved German passengers who attempted to sue Lufthansa following delays of over 24 hours. In the second, British Airways, EasyJet, TUI Travel and IATA challenged Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority after it rejected their request to be exempted from paying for delays.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament backed a report on passenger rights which, if enshrined in law, will compel airlines to establish help desks and include “core services” such as boarding cards and paying by credit or debit in the advertised air fare.

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