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First airline cancellation compensation awarded

LONDON (eTurboNews) -- A British passenger has become the first to succeed in a court case based on new European Union regulations concerning compensation for cancelled flights.

David Harbord and his son were booked on a Thomas Cook flight from London Stansted to Vancouver, but they were told that the flight had been replaced by a flight operating the next day from Manchester. 300 passengers were taken by bus the 200 miles to board the plane, but the Harbords declined and rebooked their trip on another airline.

Harbord claimed compensation of 600 euros plus a refund of the original fares, under the European airline cancellation regulations for long haul flights. Thomas Cook refused the claim and said they had not cancelled the flight as the departure from Manchester had the same flight number, and they had made the required arrangements to meet passengers' requirements.

Harbord took his case to a small claims court. A judge at Oxford County Court ruled that the fact that the same flight number was used has no bearing on the issue. He said the time differential of 24 hours was more indicative of a cancellation than of delay.

Thomas Cook then claimed it was not liable because the disruption to the flight was caused by a technical problem, which could not have been foreseen. However, an engineer admitted in court that the faulty aircraft had not been the one on which Harbord was booked to fly, although the airline had had to shuffle its fleet as a result. The judge said: "It is not sufficient for the defendant to escape liability by pointing to some technical defect somewhere or other in its fleet."

Small claims court judgments do not set legal precedent and it does not follow that a judge would be obliged to come to the same conclusion in a different case. Thomas Cook told The Times newspaper that it was considering an appeal. If it were to lose in the High Court, the ruling would set a legal precedent and more passengers would be encouraged to claim.

Earlier, the global airline body IATA and the European Low Fare Airlines Association failed in a bid to get the European Court of Justice to overturn the European Union's regulations for compensation when passengers were denied boarding or flights were cancelled.

The ELFAA had argued that the statutory compensation was unfair to low-fares carriers as the compensation could be much higher than the original fare. The European Court of Justice ruled that the disruption suffered by passengers in the event of a cancellation or a long delay was similar whichever airline they were traveling with, and was unrelated to the cost of their ticket. “Accordingly, it was incumbent upon the Community legislature to treat all airlines identically” said the Court.

ELFAA secretary general, Jan Skeels, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the Court has failed to overturn what is clearly a bad piece of legislation that does nothing for consumers and seriously undermines the competitiveness of the European air transport industry.

“Although overbooking of flights is a commercial practice of some airlines which should be rightly punished, delays and cancellations are usually beyond the control of the airlines and this legislation only makes the problem worse by creating the expectation among passengers that they are entitled to ridiculous amounts of compensation.”

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