THE BLOG

Compensation for a Delayed Flight - Can I Win Against an Airline?

11/03/2014 11:32 GMT | Updated 10/05/2014 10:59 BST

Our beloved European Union regulates and directs every other step in our life journey.

Each reader may add negative or positive connotation to Brussels' reign depending on personal views on EC unification, but nevertheless, some of this regulating actually carries a great deal of European goodness.

In the aviation industry, EU law gives every passenger the right to compensation of up to €600 if his or her flight was delayed by 3 or more hours, cancelled or if the traveller was denied boarding.

Before you go clamouring to write a host of letters to whichever poor airlines you've suffered at the hands of, there is one proviso - it has to have been the airline's fault.

So situations like bad weather, Icelandic volcanoes or industrial strikes that were the root cause of flight disruptions do not count.

The good news is that everything else that the airline can be blamed for shall result in money in those lucky passengers' accounts.

So what do I do to get my money?

If you suffer a delay, the first and most important thing is to keep all travel documents - like booking confirmations or boarding passes. You would then write to the airline requesting monetary compensation under the EC Regulation 261/2004.

And then?

Hope for the best!

A small fraction of passengers may be lucky enough to receive a cheque from the offending airline with a letter of apology.

Another small fraction might receive nothing but silence.

Most of us, however, would be destined to receive a much longer and detailed letter - but no amount of shaking of the envelope will reveal a cheque.

In this tragic missive, the beleaguered airline explains in sweeping terms quite how difficult it is to run aircrafts on schedule and that the reasons for flight disruptions are so complex our minds would not be able to comprehend them.

These long-winded letters normally end with words like "In light of this investigation and these circumstances, we are sorry to have to conclude that no compensation is payable on this occasion. However, we hope that you will remain loyal to our airline and will be happy to welcome you on board in the near future".

For many, this is where the claim journey may end. However, some determined passengers, aided with the knowledge of the internet, will take matters further and make a complaint against the airlines' decisions with any of the 28 relevant EU Civil Aviation Authorities.

Which one they complain to is dependent on the country of the departure airport.

A few months' wait would reward the passenger with a letter of denouement - that is, if the civil aviation authority has actually bothered with a reply.

For the sake of the argument, let's assume the Civil Aviation Authority replies, and agrees that compensation is due. Going back to the airline expecting a change in its initial negative stance has proven to be the common sticking point for most passengers.

So what now?

Court proceedings are the last hope. See you in court!

When one is really determined, all that needs to be done is a proper drafting and filing of claim particulars, paying the court fee, filling in a few more documents the courts require, paying the hearing fee - and there we go!

Our poor passenger, by this point at their wit's end, may then end up facing the airline's barrister and solicitor in front of a judge. No matter whether one is right or wrong in her or his claim, it is often just too much of an army to overcome.

In this way, the justice as designed to protect air passengers' rights gets a proper lashing.

Battling an airline normally results in dozens of hours spent on writing letters and filling in forms, then waiting for the court generosity in getting legal fees back - and perhaps, ultimately, some compensation too.

The area of air passenger rights is complex and ambiguous enough that lawyers spend hours arguing about it. For that reason, being a legal maverick could prove costly and utterly frustrating.

There are some claim companies and solicitors on the market offering work on a 'no win, no fee' basis, and, whilst the airlines are choosing to fight many claims in this manner despite the EC Regulation's edicts, can provide proper guidance from the start in making the claiming process a lot easier.

At a time when the airlines are choosing to fight these kinds of claims more and more, often battling them as far as the initial stages of court, letting the professionals fight compensation claims from the start for a fee payable only when the money is recovered somehow appears to be the proposition that makes the most sense.