Extraordinary Circumstances.

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Extraordinary Circumstances Flight Delay Compensation

If your flight was delayed or cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances then you might not be able to claim flight delay compensation.

However – sometimes airlines argue that the issue was an extraordinary circumstance when in reality it wasn’t. This is leaving thousands of passengers without their rightful compensation.

We’re here to make sure you get what you’re entitled to.

The excuse of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is the only defence an airline has to avoid paying out compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled.

Compensation is due as part of EU Regulation 261/2004 – a European law that allows air passengers to claim compensation of up to 600 Euros for flight delays or cancellations under certain circumstances.

The regulation includes an ‘extraordinary circumstances’ clause so that in the event of things like a volcanic ash cloud, or acts of terrorism, airlines don’t have to pay compensation.

Airlines have been trying to get other circumstances included in the definition of ‘extraordinary’ ever since the regulation was introduced in 2005. There have been some high-profile court cases to deal with these issues.

If your flight was affected by something the airline has called ‘extraordinary’ we can still investigate the real reasons for you using our detailed flight patrol database and our expert team.

This guide will explain the definitions of what is and isn’t extraordinary, what to do if the airline claims a flight was delayed or cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, and what other rights you have if your flight has been affected.

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Extraordinary Circumstances Legal Definition

Under Regulation EC 261/2004 the defence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as a valid reason for not paying compensation has not been fully defined.

This has led to numerous court cases over the years between passengers and airlines as the legal definition continues to evolve.

According to EU law on flight compensation the term ‘extraordinary circumstances’ refers to situations when the delay or cancellation of a flight is not considered to be the ‘responsibility’ of the airline.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the airline’s ‘fault’ – the extraordinary circumstances are more concerned with whether the situation is considered ‘inherent’ in the running of an airline.

The European Court of Justice attempted to clarify extraordinary circumstances with the following statement in several of its judgments:

“The extraordinary event is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier and is beyond the actual control of that carrier on account of its nature or origin.”

So the only time an event could be legally classified as extraordinary is if it isn’t considered part and parcel of operating an airline AND it’s outside the airline’s control.

If a delay or cancellation is outside the control of the airline but is considered to be inherent in operating an airline (such as a lightning strike) then it would still be claimable.

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List of Non-extraordinary circumstances

There are a number of reasons for delays and cancellations that airlines have argued should be extraordinary and lost those cases. These include:

  • Technical defects
  • Crew sickness
  • Staff shortages
  • Lightning strikes
  • Bad weather

If you had a delay or cancellation due to one of these reasons then you would be eligible for flight compensation. If you’re not sure why the flight was delayed then send us your flight details through our claim form and we’ll investigate for you.

List of Extraordinary Circumstances for Flight Delays

There is no definitive list of extraordinary circumstances for flight delay and cancellations but there are some situations in which the airlines would not be required to pay compensation:

  • Acts of sabotage or terrorism
  • Political or civil unrest
  • Hidden manufacturing defects (affecting an entire fleet of aircraft)
  • Bird Strikes (this used to be claimable but is now considered extraordinary)
  • Air traffic control strikes
  • Extreme or ‘freak’ weather conditions (such as a volcanic ash cloud)

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) list some delays and cancellations caused by extraordinary circumstances on their website.

If you experienced a delay or cancellation because of one of these reasons then it’s unlikely you’d be able to claim compensation. You would however still be entitled to ‘care and assistance’.

Care and Assistance for Extraordinary Circumstances

If you experience a flight delay, cancellation, or are denied boarding, then under the Regulation you are entitled to ‘care and assistance’ from the airline – even if the delay was due to an extraordinary circumstance.

Care and assistance is separate from flight compensation and kicks in from:

  • 2 hours for short flights under 1,500km
  • 3 hours for flights between 1,500km-3,500km or between two EU states
  • 4 hours for flights over 3,500km

The Regulation sets out what passengers are entitled to as part of the care and assistance clause. This includes:

  • Food and drink in reasonable relation to the waiting time
  • Two free emails, phone calls, telex or fax messages
  • Overnight accommodation (where necessary)
  • Travel to and from the airport and accommodation

The airline should pay for all the above but if they don’t, keep receipts and evidence of what costs you’ve incurred and we can add them into claims we take to court – or you can claim these expenses back from the airline directly separately to the compensation claim.

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What Flights Are Covered By EU261

Not all flights are covered by the flight compensation Regulation EC 261. To be eligible your flight must have either departed from the EU on any airline, or arrived into the EU on an EU airline.

This means a flight from London to Dubai on British Airways would be covered for both outbound and return flights, while the same route on Emirates would only be covered on the flight departing London as the airline is not an EU registered airline.

Use our table below to check if your flight is covered – alternatively input your flight details on our calculator and we’ll check if it’s eligible for you.

DepartureArrivalAirlineCovered
Inside the EUAny worldwideAll airlinesYes
Outside the EUInside the EUEU airlinesYes
Outside the EUInside the EUNon-EU airlinesNo
Outside the EUOutside the EUAll airlinesNo

If your flight is covered by the regulation then in order to claim compensation you need to have been delayed by at least 3 hours on arrival.

The rules apply to flights that are delayed or cancelled, or if a passenger is denied boarding because of overbooking on the flight.

For shorter flights when a delay hits 2 hours you qualify for care and assistance and when the delay hits 3 hours you can also claim compensation of 250 Euros.

For medium flights (between 1,500km and 3,500km) your care and assistance and compensation entitlement kicks in at 3 hours and you could claim 400 Euros.

Long haul flights of over 3,500km are eligible for care and assistance after 4 hours and the maximum 600 Euros. If the delay is between 3 and 4 hours then you can claim 300 Euros.

If the flight was cancelled within 14 days of the departure date then you are also entitled to compensation depending on the alternative flight arrangements. In this circumstance it’s possible to claim compensation if your new flight gets in too early!

The easiest way to know how much you’re entitled to and which bracket you fall into for claim amounts, is to put your flight information into our claim form and we’ll calculate the compensation due to you.

What if the airline says the delay is an extraordinary circumstance?

Airlines aren’t always accurate with their interpretation of the Regulation and this can lead to them telling passengers a delay or cancellation was due to an extraordinary circumstance when it might not have been.

A very high-profile example of this was the case of Dawson v Thomson which went to the Supreme Court. The airline started by arguing the delay was an extraordinary circumstance but then changed to a limitation argument.

Another instance was Jet2 defending a claim that also went to the Supreme Court where they said a technical defect was ‘extraordinary’. The Court of Appeal found in favour of the passenger and this was upheld at the Supreme Court.

How to find out the real cause of your delay or cancellation

Don’t be put off if your airline has told you the delay or cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances. They might be mistaken, or they might even be misleading you.

Either way we are on hand to help. Our advice is to ask for the delay reason in writing from an airline employee – or record what they say on your phone (make sure you ask permission first!)

If you weren’t able to do this, then send us your flight details through our claim form and we’ll assess the real delay reasons and let you know if it’s claimable.