The recent ruling of the European Court of Justice regarding "wildcat strikes" cases of delayed or canceled flights shows that air passenger rights are more alive than ever.
In particular, the case called the meaning of "extraordinary circumstances" into question.
The term is largely used by airlines wishing to exonerate themselves from paying compensation to air passengers whose flight was delayed or canceled.
Bad weather conditions are among the most common extraordinary circumstances, which has led airlines to use the excuse with sometimes too much latitude.
Bad Weather Conditions are Extraordinary Circumstances
Let's go back to the source:
The EU Regulation 261/2004, more commonly known as EC261, sets the rules for flight compensation and acts as the reference in terms of air passenger rights in the EU.
EC261 also provides the conditions for airlines to discharge themselves of liability:
"[...] obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken."
Among other examples of extraordinary circumstances, "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned" are listed as one of the reasons allowing airlines not to pay compensation.
It is understandably frustrating to passengers whose plans got disrupted, especially because they couldn't do anything about it.
But in such cases where the airlines were not responsible for the delay and had taken all measures to try and operate the flight on time and still were faced with circumstances out of their control, it's only fair that they don't have to pay for the unfortunate event, isn't it?
However, some flights that were delayed or canceled due to bad weather, as justified by the airline, are still subject to compensation.
Airlines Use the Bad Weather Excuse too Easily
Most of the time, airlines rightfully justify their right not to pay compensation with "impracticable meteorological conditions".
Yet, we have also found that they sometimes abuse the imprecise definition of the term to exonerate themselves from all responsibility.
In other words, sometimes, airlines lie about how bad the weather was. Airlines use bad weather conditions as an excuse not to pay, when in fact, the meteorological conditions didn't justify the fact that the flight arrived at its final destination more than 3 hours late.
What we must keep in mind is that "bad weather conditions" are not the same as "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned", as stated in the regulation.
What's the difference?
For instance, fog at the airport is commonly used as a bad weather excuse. When the visibility is indeed drastically reduced, it is perfectly appropriate. However, when the fog isn't too dense and doesn't seriously block the visibility for pilots, the flight can still be operated.
In such a case, the bad weather isn't incompatible with the operation of the flight.
Sounds like a stretch? Less than you think. And when you manage to prove it to them, airlines do pay up.
Case Study: How ClaimCompass got the Compensation for a Case of Alleged "Bad Weather"
Note: The airline shall remain unnamed. While it happened to have abused the meaning of "bad weather" in this case, it is by no means a habit of this airline, nor is this airline the only one we caught in this situation.
On February 28, ClaimCompass received a compensation claim from a client under the reference number 25489.
Because of the delay of his first flight, our client missed his connection, resulting in his arrival at his final destination (much) more than 3 hours later than what was originally scheduled.
We submitted the claim to the airline on his behalf and received their first statement on March 7:
The airline refused to pay any compensation due alleged "bad weather in Vienna". When that is true, then indeed, no compensation is due. For most people, it's hard to verify this statement.
ClaimCompass' team has both the tools and expertise to evaluate whether the meteorological conditions justified the delayed operation of the flight.
The best way to do so is to decode the relevant METAR reports. They report weather information and are "predominantly used by pilots in fulfillment of a part of a pre-flight weather brief". Because of their standardization through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), they are understood throughout the world...
... provided that you can decode them.
Here is the METAR report for this case:
ClaimCompass uses tools to decode the above. What passengers must keep in mind is that it's not only the weather at the moment of the flight that matters: it's the meteorological conditions throughout the whole journey.
As a result, we checked the conditions at the time of the departure, but also at arrival. We determined that in this case, the weather shouldn't have prevented the flight from being operated on time.
At the time and place of the scheduled departure:
At the time and place of the scheduled arrival:
In order to further verify the conditions at departure, we also checked the status of flights departing and arriving at similar times as this flight. It turned out that other flights didn't have any problem taking-off and landing around the same time as our flight's initial schedule.
This seemed to confirm that weather conditions were in fact not a valid reason justifying the flight delay. We therefore kindly asked the airline to reassess their initial statement, in light of the above.
A few days later, on Mar 16, we received the following reply from the airline:
After re-evaluation, the airline, just like us, came to the conclusion that the flight should indeed have been operated on time.
Bad weather was in this case not a valid excuse for refusing to pay compensation.
Air Passenger Entitled to Compensation Don't Always Get Paid by the Airline
It is worth noting that the airline in this case was very compliant and did not seek to argue against the obvious. Unfortunately, this is not always the case: many airlines hide behind technical or legal jargon to avoid enforcing air passenger rights (when they're not saying outright lies).
Because of these abuses of language, lies, and the difficulty for passengers to check airlines' statement, many travelers each year are denied a compensation that they are legally entitled to.
Some of them do manage to get their money from the airline, but many simply give up, either because the process is too complicated or because the airline seems to have proved that they are actually not eligible to a compensation. Other bring the matter to court and hope for a favorable resolution of the dispute.
What comes out of this is the realization that even when air passengers are legally entitled to compensation, they are not sure to get it when claiming on their own.
Because we have the expertise and the tools to verify each airline's statement, ClaimCompass fights to defend air passengers rights, even when it seems that no compensation is due. The case above is just an example among many where an apparently lost case resulted in a victory for our clients.
You might also be interested in: