Airlines To Compensate For ‘Tech’ Cancellations

The European Court of Justice has ruled that airlines must pay compensation to passengers when flights are cancelled because of technical problems with the aircraft.
The only exceptions, says the court, is when the technical problems are caused by: “extraordinary” events, such as terrorism, sabotage or a manufacturing fault that suddenly comes to light.
The judges declared that the responsibility to prove that the circumstances are “extraordinary” lies with the airlines.
The court was ruling in a case between Alitalia and an Austrian family, whose flight from Vienna to Brindisi via Rome was cancelled five minutes before its scheduled departure.
Changing to an Austrian Airlines flight meant missing the Rome connection to Brindisi, and arriving nearly four hours late.
When Alitalia refused to pay compensation of €250 plus €10 telephone costs, the family took legal action and won their case. But Alitalia then appealed to the Commercial Court in Vienna, which asked the EU court for clarification on Europe’s rules on airline compensation.
In their December 22 response, the Luxembourg-based judges said current EU rules give passengers the right to compensation: “unless they are informed of the cancellation of the flight in due time.”
But airlines are not obliged to pay if they can prove that cancellation was caused by: “extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.”
In the Alitalia case, the flight had been cancelled because of what was described as: “a complex engine defect in the turbine,” which had been detected during an inspection carried out the previous day.
“In the light of the specific conditions in which carriage by air takes place, and the degree of technological sophistication of aircraft, air carriers are confronted as a matter of course in the exercise of their activity with various technical problems to which the operation of those aircraft inevitably gives rise,” said the judgment. Furthermore, correcting those technical problems must be regarded as part of the normal exercise of an air carrier’s activity. “Consequently, technical problems that come to light during maintenance of aircraft or on account of failure to carry out such maintenance, do not constitute, in themselves, extraordinary circumstances.
“An air carrier may not as a general rule refuse to pay compensation to passengers following the cancellation of a flight on account of technical problems in the aircraft.
“Compensation may, however, be refused if the technical problems stem from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier and are beyond its actual control.”