EU Court Rules for Passengers Delayed Again on Rerouted Flights

(CN) – The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that airline passengers who have already been compensated for canceled flights are entitled to further compensation when their rerouted flights fail to reach their final destination within a certain amount of time.

The decision stems from a lawsuit brought against Finnair, Finland’s largest airline, by a group of travelers who experienced a series of delays in late 2013 while attempting to fly from Helsinki to Singapore.

After the group’s original flight was canceled because of technical problems with the plane, the travelers were rerouted on a connecting flight through Chongqing, China, but that plane also broke down and the second flight was delayed. The travelers ultimately reached Singapore three days after they were originally supposed to take off.

The passengers complained the 600 euros ($671) they each received from Finnair for the cancellation of the first flight wasn’t enough to make up for the added delays and that they were entitled to more under an EU regulation that outlines “common rules” for such situations.

The company had argued the passengers weren’t eligible for extra pay because of an exception in the regulation that clears airlines from responsibility when “extraordinary circumstances” are to blame for the added delays.

In its ruling Thursday, the European Court of Justice held that passengers in these particular situations should receive extra compensation if they reach their final destinations three or more hours after the time their rerouted flights were originally scheduled to land.

Finnair did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

The EU’s top court also ruled that airlines cannot use technical breakdowns as a blanket excuse for delays.

“Technical shortcomings inherent in aircraft maintenance cannot, in principle, constitute, as such, ‘extraordinary circumstances,’” the court wrote. “More specifically, the premature, even unexpected, failure of certain parts of an aircraft does not constitute extraordinary circumstances, since such a breakdown is, in principle, intrinsically linked to the operating system of the aircraft.”

Still, problems with planes can be considered “extraordinary circumstances” if they happen outside the “normal activity” of the airline’s operations and are outside the airline’s control, the court ruled.

“Passengers who have been exposed to cancellations or long delays, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, have suffered that inconvenience, both in relation to the cancellation of their initially booked flight and subsequently as a result of the long delay of their re-routing flight,” the ruling states. “Therefore, it is in line with the objective of addressing that serious inconvenience to grant those passengers a right to compensation for each of those successive inconveniences.”

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