Airlines could be forced to pay up for delayed flights

Airlines could be forced to pay out thousands of pounds to passengers who are delayed for three hours or more, following an EU ruling.

The European Court of Justice has upheld a decision made last year, that entitled passengers to financial compensation, unless the delay was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances'.

The ruling also confirmed that mechanical problems do not fall in to that category.

Under current EU regulations, people flying to or from an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airport, or with an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic-based airline, are entitled to meals, refreshments and free telephone calls or emails if their flight's delayed by three hours or more.

Since 2009, passengers facing such delays have also been entitled to cash compensation of between €250 (£204) and €600 (£490), depending on the length of the flight. But, a legal challenge launched by BA, easyJet and other airlines has meant that since August 2010, all claims in the UK have been put on hold.

The new EU ruling casts doubt over the likely success of the airlines' challenge and could force carriers to reconsider hundreds of existing claims.

However, industry experts warn that carriers will probably still argue that  'extraordinary circumstances'  include bad weather, fog, air traffic control or other strikes, political instability and one-off incidents such as the ash cloud that brought European aviation to a stand-still in 2010.

Airlines are also only liable for compensation if passengers are three or more hours late in reaching their destination, rather than departing and because some airlines overestimate flying times, a passenger may take off three hours late, they may still arrive within the cut-off time for compensation.

It's always worth checking the details of your travel insurance cover regarding delays; Saga covers the cost of phone calls and meals after a delay of 12 hours or more up to £215 per person without any excess, and any irrecoverable travel and accommodation costs incurred as a result of being delayed 24 hrs or more on the outward journey from the UK, which forces you to abandon your trip, up to the value of £5,000.

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