Delayed airline passengers lost a major battle earlier, as a judge at the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of airline bosses who had argued flights delayed or cancelled because of a bird strike on an aircraft are an “extraordinary circumstance”.
Under European regulations, airlines do not have to pay-out compensation to passengers who have been delayed as a result of an extraordinary circumstance.
This is deemed to be any situation where the cause for the delay or cancellation is outside of the control of the airline.
The case before the ECJ involved two Czech passengers, Marcela Peskova and Jirí Peska, who claimed €400 each from Travel Service AS, which runs Smartwings.
Their flight from Bourgas in Bulgaria to Ostrava in the Czech Republic was delayed by over five hours by a bird strike.
But the judge in Luxembourg concluded: “The air carrier cannot be obliged to take measures which would require it to make intolerable sacrifices.”
The ruling comes despite the fact that there were 1,665 confirmed bird strikes in the UK in 2015 alone, with a further 267 near misses and 829 unconfirmed cases.
The judge ruled that these incidents were ‘extraordinary’ and therefore airlines should not have to compensate passengers delayed as a result.
The European ruling – which is binding across all UK courts – will come as a blow to the many hundreds of passengers who have claims registered with the airlines and who will now miss out as a result.
Adeline Noorderhaven, UK manager for flight compensation company EU Claim said: “This ruling is very disappointing and completely contradicts the advice of advocate general Yves Bot last year, who recommended that because of the frequency with which these types of incidents occur, such bird strikes must be considered as inherent to the exercise of the activity of an airline.”
The European Court ruling also supersedes previous cases that have come before British courts.
In April 2015 a Manchester County Court judge ruled against Thomas Cook and in-favour of Timothy Ash and his family, awarding the four €1,600 for a delay that occurred on a flight from Antalya in Turkey to Manchester in 2011.
At that trial, the Judge noted that bird strikes were so common that Manchester airport uses a hawk to prevent other birds from straying into its airspace.
EU Claim predicts that the ruling will save the airline industry £60 million this year, based on the number of claims on hold while the court has been considering the case.