Court ruling forces flight delay backtrack

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RYANAIR have lost a test case that could have implications for millions of people trying to claim compensation for late and delayed flights.

Manchester County Court ruled that Europe's largest budget airline could not reduce the timeframe for passengers to claim compensation for delays from six to two years.

Ryanair had previously added a clause to the small print of their terms and conditions that said: "Any right to damages and/or compensation shall be extinguished if an action is not brought within two years."

The airline have said they will appeal against the ruling because they believe "a two year time limit for claims is reasonable".

Important implications

The ruling is particularly significant as many other airlines also have clauses limiting the time in which passengers can make a claim.

If Ryanair had won, it would have set the stage for those, and other, airlines to apply a two year claims rule to both future and existing cases.

As it stands, while the ruling isn't legally binding it does set a precedent for other EU passengers who have been delayed while flying. It remains to be seen whether other county courts use the ruling in their own judgements.

The lost case is expected to cost Ryanair a significant amount in compensation claims. Lawyers estimate that this could amount to millions of pounds, though Ryanair say the potential liability "is likely to be less than €5m (£3.5 million)".

Better late than never

The case was brought by two passengers whose Ryanair flight was nearly 10 hours late when it arrived at Stansted from Reus in Spain in 2008.

Archana Goel and Diwakar Trivedi didn't try to claim compensation until five years and eight months later, and Ryanair refused to pay out €250 (£175) in compensation.

Instead of backing down, the two sought legal representation, with their case hinging on European passenger rights rules that say airlines can't limit their obligations with a "restrictive clause in the contract of carriage".

Kevin Clarke, a flight delay specialist from the law firm Bott & Co, who took on the case, said:

"We're delighted that the court has dismissed yet another argument put forward by the airlines to restrict passenger rights."

Angry airlines

But as Ryanair have already announced their intention to appeal, it's clear this is just part of a long running battle between airlines and passengers.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against Thompson in a case involving a passenger who wanted to claim compensation for an eight hour delay more than two years after the incident.

The Court's decision meant that travellers could claim compensation for flight delays going back six years.

A year before that, the European Union's Court of Justice passed a judgment suggesting that passengers who arrived more than three hours late at their destination would be due compensation.

We cover the conditions for compensation in more detail here, but broadly they require passengers to be departing from any airport within the EU, or arriving in the EU from any destination on an airline registered within the EU.

The amount of compensation awarded depends on the distance travelled and how long the flight was delayed for.

Delays expected

Delays to flights are common - particularly in these days of heightened airport security.

Although the average delay is relatively short - just over six minutes - journeys to some destinations consistently involve a lot of waiting around.

For example, the average delay to a flight to Bangladesh from the UK is 46 minutes, to Turkmenistan it's 44 minutes, and to the Faroe Islands flights are delayed by an average of 40 minutes.

The Civil Aviation Authority say that flight performance fell by around 1% in the past year.

"The industry has had to deal with some unseasonably poor weather and a number of overseas air traffic control strikes, both beyond their control," says Iain Osborne, group director for regulatory policy.

However, these problems - dubbed "extraordinary circumstances" - are deemed to be outside the airline's control, and mean that they're not liable for any delays resulting from them.

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