(CN) - Europe's high court handed down a ruling entitling airline passengers to payment if their flights are delayed by more than three hours. European Union regulations from 2004 grant passengers the right to $370 to $890 compensation if a flight is cancelled, based on the distance of the flight. The law also requires airlines to provide meals, hotel stays and free phone calls to passengers on delayed flights.
Passengers had the right to the minimum cancellation payment if flights were delayed for five hours or more.
The Court of Justice ruled that delays of three hours or more entitle a passenger to the full cancellation compensation, although the payment may be cut in half if the delay is less than four hours. There is no justification to treat flight delays differently from cancellations, the court determined.
The ruling applies only in "extraordinary circumstances" beyond the airlines' control. The court noted that technical difficulties do not fall into this category.
The Luxembourg-based court's decision comes in response to the travel sagas of four Condor and Air France passengers, who sought full compensation after arriving 25 and 22 hours later than scheduled bookings with their respective airlines, which argued that the flights had been merely delayed.
Flights may be considered cancelled, the high court said, if airlines arrange for a passenger's transport on a different flight.
Airline customers in the United States are pushing for a "passengers' bill of rights," which has been in a Congressional holding pattern since 1999. The legislation would allow passengers the option of getting off delayed planes after three hours on the ground, and requires airlines to provide food, water, temperature controls, ventilation and toilets for delays of three hours or more.
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