Delayed KLM Flyers Win Compensation

     (CN) – Mechanical problems that dogged a KLM flight from Ecuador to Amsterdam aren’t enough for the Dutch carrier to dodge compensating passengers for the day-long delay, the EU’s high court ruled Thursday.
     EU law requires airlines to care for and compensate passengers affected by cancellations and flight delays of more than two hours. The amount of compensation ranges from $282 for shorter flights up to $678 for long hauls.
     But airlines can avoid paying compensation if they can show the delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances.” In plaintiff Corina van der Lans’ case, her flight from Quito to Amsterdam finally touched down after a 29-hour delay – which KLM blamed on the extraordinary circumstances of two defective components that had to be transported by air from Amsterdam and installed before the flight could leave Ecuador.
     KLM called the circumstances extraordinary because neither of the components had exceeded their average lifetime when they failed, and their manufacturers had not indicated what if any defects might arise when the components reached a certain age.
     Van der Lans sued for compensation in Amsterdam District Court, which asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether KLM’s unexpected mechanical problems – evidently caused by manufacturer defects – qualified as an “extraordinary circumstance” under EU law.
     In an opinion issued Thursday, the EU high court – which has developed significant case-law on this topic – said only known and widespread defects and acts of sabotage or terrorism really count as extraordinary circumstances to allow carriers to dodge compensating passengers for delays and cancellations.
     “Since the functioning of aircraft inevitably gives rise to technical problems, air carriers are confronted as a matter of course in the exercise of their activity with such problems,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote in a 7-page preliminary ruling. “In that connection, technical problems which come to light during maintenance of aircraft or on account of failure to carry out such maintenance cannot constitute, in themselves, ‘extraordinary circumstances’ under EU law.”
     The court acknowledged that the breakdown on KLM’s plane constituted “an unexpected event,” but said that such breakdowns are inevitable in parts “intrinsically linked to the very complex operating system of the aircraft, which is operated by the air carrier in conditions, particularly meteorological conditions, which are often difficult or even extreme, it being understood moreover that no component of an aircraft lasts forever.”
     Furthermore, EU law allows air carriers to go after parts manufacturers to recoup passenger payouts for delays caused by unexpected and unreasonable equipment failures, the court said.
     It is up for the Amsterdam court to determine if the failures KLM complains of were indeed the fault of hidden defects that could affect the entire fleet – the only way the delay could be called an “extraordinary circumstance,” the high court concluded.

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