District Judge says if airlines won’t pay for relief staff at airports, ‘they must also build into their thinking the risk that they may have to pay passengers compensation.’
- Judge rules that crew sickness is NOT one of the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ outlined in European flight delay regulation EU 261/2004
- According to EU Regulation, air passengers delayed by three hours or more in the last six years can claim up to €600, as long as their delay was not caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’
- The Regulation does not provide a specific list of extraordinary circumstances, leading to long court battles between airlines and delayed passengers
- Flight delay compensation specialists Bott and Co Solicitors say this is another example of “a Court telling an airline that it might not be their fault, but it is their responsibility.”
A judge has ruled that ‘crew sickness’ is not one of the extraordinary circumstances airlines can use as a defence against paying flight delay compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004.
The judgement was handed down today (29/05/2015) at Staines County Court in the case of Davies V British Airways PLC. District Judge Beck ruled in favour of Eric and Carole Davies, awarding the couple €800 (approximately £310 each) for a delay of 3 hours and 51 minutes on a flight from Catania to London Gatwick in 2012.
According to European flight delay regulation EC 261/2004, passengers who have been delayed by three hours or more in the last six years can claim up to €600, as long as their delay was not caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. But what constitutes an extraordinary circumstance has been a bone of contention in UK Courts, as the Regulation does not list specific circumstances that should be considered ‘extraordinary’.
It is widely agreed that passengers cannot claim for acts of terrorism or sabotage, extreme weather conditions, civil unrest, hidden manufacturing defects or industrial action – yet there has previously been confusion around claiming for delays caused by crew sickness.
District Judge Beck said that although a crew member falling ill mid-flight is “unusual”, it should not be considered extraordinary because “it is an inescapable fact that, on a day-to-day basis, members of staff become ill and some are taken ill and at extremely inconvenient times.”
The Judge added that if an airline chooses not to pay for relief staff at their destination airports because it is not “commercially viable”, they should expect to pay compensation when something goes wrong. He said:
“If the Defendant does choose to operate with the bare minimum of staff, I think they must also build into their thinking the risk that they may have to pay passengers compensation under the Article, if as in this case, the Defendant is caught out by a member of staff being taken ill.”
Mr and Mrs Davies suffered a long delay in Catania when a cabin crew member on the outbound flight from Gatwick became ill mid-flight. It was decided that the crew member – who experienced vomiting, headaches and feeling ‘cold and clammy’ – should not work on the next flight from Catania, and should instead return on the flight to Gatwick as a passenger.
As a minimum of three cabin crew were required to work on the aircraft, a third crew member needed to be brought in to Catania airport, resulting in the delay of nearly four hours.
British Airways only have relief staff stationed at London City, London Gatwick and London Heathrow; the airline does not have extra cabin crew on standby at any other airports across the globe.
Bott and Co Flight Delay Compensation Lawyer Coby Benson, who represented Mr and Mrs Davies, said:
“This judgment gets absolutely to the heart of the regulations. It doesn’t matter if the incident which causes a delay or a cancellation is predictable or within the control of the airlines; if it is inherent in the normal activity of the air carrier then they have a duty to prepare for it happening. Once again we have a court telling an airline that it may not be their fault, but it is their responsibility.
“The starting point for the regulation is that it should aim to ensure a high level of protection for passengers. This judgment perfectly sums that ethos up and identifies that the airline in this instance does not have any resistance built unto their system for crew sickness on short-haul flights because of commercial considerations”.
Eric Davies from Solihull said: “It’s like teaching or any business that relies on people turning up; they need to have some kind of back up in place. I would suggest that airlines should have trained staff on-hand at airports in case someone falls ill, even if they aren’t only employed by any one airline.”
Passengers can also claim for flight delays caused by bad weather that affected a previous flight, denied boarding due to the flight being overbooked, airline staff arriving late, or issues with understaffing.
Notes to editor:
Flight delay Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long flight delays. Passengers are entitled to up to €600 per passenger on qualifying flights. The regulation covers flights departing an EU state, or landing in an EU state on board an EU airline.
Bott and Co
Bott and Co is a Wilmslow based specialist consumer rights law firm founded in 2001 by David Bott, Paul Hinchliffe and Gary Froggatt. It was one of the first firms to be granted Alternative Business Structure (ABS) status.