Are bad weather conditions extraordinary circumstances? Can you get a flight compensation because of bad weather?
The European Court of Justice ruling regarding "wildcat strikes" cases of delayed or canceled flights shows that air passenger rights are more alive than ever. But perhaps more importantly, 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 cancelled.
Many passengers have started to wonder if they could claim a flight compensation for bad weather.
After all, adverse weather conditions are among the most common "extraordinary circumstances".
This has led airlines to use the excuse with sometimes too much latitude, in order to alleviate themselves from having to pay their compensation to passenger.
In this post, we will:
- Define what extraordinary circumstances are, in the meaning of the EU Regulation 261/2004
- Determine whether bad weather is part of those extraordinary circumstances
- Investigate if you're eligible to compensation for the disruption of your flight for bad weather
- Go over an actual case where ClaimCompass helped a passenger get compensation from the airline despite "bad weather"
What Are Extraordinary CirCumstances?
Let's go back to the main authority in the matter.
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 (ie when the airline doesn't have to pay compensation for their delayed or cancelled flights):
"[...] 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.
This is understandably frustrating to passengers whose plans got disrupted, especially because they couldn't do anything about it. But the fact is, neither could the airline.
However, there are some flights that were delayed or cancelled due to bad weather, as justified by the airline, that are still subject to compensation.
Which begs the question:
Is Bad Weather an Extraordinary Circumstance?
That's where it gets more complicated - and, rather boringly, it boils down to a question of vocabulary used by the airline.
In a few words, "bad weather" is not the same as "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned". While the latter perfectly corresponds to the definition of extraordinary circumstances as defined by EC261, the former does not.
One thing to keep in mind: to be regarded as extraordinary circumstance, the bad weather must affect the flight in question. If your flight was disrupted because a different flight was affecting, resulting in a know-on effect for your flight, you should (in theory) be entitled to compensation. In practice, however, some courts side with the airline and rule that you are not entitled to compensation in this situation.
"Bad weather" is not the same as "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned"
Airlines do not always take all necessary measures to prevent the non-operation of the flight because of bad weather
Here is why "bad weather" isn't (always) an extraordinary circumstance.
To avoid paying compensation by using the "extraordinary circumstances" as an excuse, the airline must prove that 1) the event could not be avoided, and 2) they took all reasonable measures to prevent the non-operation of the flight on time.
Obviously, airlines don't control the weather, so when bad weather occurs, it couldn't be avoided. But do they always take all reasonable measures to prevent the flight disruption?
The fact is that while bad weather cannot be avoided, it is not as unpredictable as other extraodinary events, such as political circumstances like civil unrest, or airport strikes, or medical emergencies, to give only a few examples of the complete list.
Bad weather isn't as unpredictable as airlines want you to think
True enough, weather patterns can be very dynamic and change rapidly, even within a few hours. That being said, airlines and airpots have access to the technology allowing them to determine meteorological in advance, and quite accurately.
Not to mention that bad weather conditions are in some cases absolutely predictable. For example, in the winter, some airports experience continuous bad weather - there's nothing unpredictable about snow in Chicago during for example.
"For airlines to use it to excempt themselves from paying compensations to air passengers, the weather must be really 'abnormal' or 'completely exceptional'"
One could argue that these bad weather conditions are nothing short of "normal conditions" for a given airport at a given time of year.
Airlines are therefore expected to take all necessary precautions to operate the flight on time.
A common excuse invoked by airlines, for example, is the absence of "de-icing fluid" to "unfreeze" the aircraft. But the airline was expected to have anticipated this sort of issue and they are therefore held liable in this kind of situation.
In short, for airlines to use it to excempt themselves from paying compensations to air passengers, the weather must be really "abnormal" or "completely exceptional".
Let's dive into some specific cases of bad weather.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by low temperatures?
Let's imagine that you were flying from an airport where the temperature was below zero. The airline delayed or cancelled your flight because it was impossible to de-ice the plane.
Well, negative temperatures are not "wholly exceptional", meaning that the airline could have taken measures to de-ice the aircraft on time - they simply didn't.
As a result, you can indeed claim up to 600€ in compensation when your flight was delayed or cancelled due to low temperatures.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by snow?
It's more complicated than mere low tempratures. Is snow an "extraordinary circumstance"? Yes and no.
It depends partly on the location of the airports in question. If snow is frequent there, then the airline may be expected to take the appropriate measures to operate the flight on time.
For instance, snowy weather is hardly exceptional in Berlin in the winter. But heavy snowfalls in Egypt could be considered as such.
However, keep in mind that despite the technologies allowing airlines and airports to anticipate the weather, sometimes, the conditions are simply too harsh to allow for the operation of the flight. Heavy snowstorm severely hinder visibility: when they occur, most flights will stay grounded.
As a general rule, what you need to know is who decided to delay or cancel your flight. If the decision came from Air Traffic Control (ATC), then you are not eligible to compensation because of the snow.
Indeed, when there is too much snow on the runway, ATC is likely to limit the amount of planes allowed to take off and land. As a results, flight delays and cancellations may occur.
If you're at the airport when your flight is delayed or cancelled because of the snow, start by checking if other flights are allowed to depart and if some are landing. If not, it's likely that you're not entitled to compensation. If yes, you might be eligible to compensation.
In most cases of flight disruption because of snow, it's about knowing whether this was a decision from Air Traffic Control or not. Which is often hard to do for passengers. That's where companies like ClaimCompass come in (more on that below).
Can you claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by fog?
Disruptions because of fog work the same way as delays and cancellations due to snow. While some airports are often foggy, if the visibility isn't sufficient, your flight is still likely to be grounded. Once again, your eligibility depends on whether or not the delay or cancellation was the result of a decision of Air Traffic Control or a lack of planning from the airline.
One thing to consider is that it's not only the weather at the departure airport that matter: airlines and ATC take into account the weather at the arrival airport too. As such, you might be surprised if the airline tells you that your flight was cancelled because of fog, while the sun is shining outside. It could mean that the fog at your destination is too thick to allow aircrafts to land safely.
Just remember: if the decision to delay or cancel the flight was not made by Air Traffic Control but by the airline, then you're probably entitled to compensation.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by wind and rain?
It's not uncommon for airports in Europe and in other parts of the world to experience wind and rain. These are therefore rarely "exceptional events" and you could therefore be entitled to up to 600€ for the delay or cancellation of your flight.
Nonetheless, heavy rains can lead up to the airport being flooded and ATC having no other choice than to close the airpot.
Particularly strong winds can elso prevent pilots from landing the aircraft is a secure fashion. Even moderately strong crosswinds can turn out to be very dangerous, as you can see in the video below.
In those cases, the air traffic controllers will deny the airplanes access to the runway. Those extraordinary circumstances make you ineligible to compensation.
Can I claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by a lightning strike?
Lightning strikes are quite a complicated case. In theory, lightning strikes are NOT regarded as "extraordinary circumstances" by EC261. That's because aircrafts are designed to resist a lightning strike; even if it happens during the flight, the plane will still take you to your destination safely.
For example, in the ruling of Evans v Monarch, Judge Clarke stressed that lightning is "inherent in the normal exercise of the carrier’s activity" and as such, not an extraordinary circumstance.
In practice, however, it's frequent for courts to rule in favor of the airline in cases of flights delayed because of a lightning strike.
So if this happened to you, you should still submit your claim. It's likely that the airline will deny compensation and you will need to bring your case to court. Then, it depends on how strict their interpretation of EC261 is.
Can I claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by sand storms?
It's very unlikely that your flight in Europe was delayed because of a sand storm. However, if you were flying to or from a destination out of Europe, like Egypt or Dubai for instance, it may indeed have occured.
The problem for you is that as of today, the EU Regulation 261/2004 does not recognize sand storms as "extraordinary circumstances", even in countries when they occur. That's because they are simply not that frequent (yet...).
As a rule of thumb, if your flight was delayed or cancelled because of a sandstorm, you're not eigible to compensation.
Except if this was not a decision of ATC but the choice of the airline alone. In that case, other flights would have departed before and after your flight, and you could be eligible.
Can I claim compensation for flight delays and cancellations caused by ash clouds?
Ash clouds are the perfect example of bad weather conditions that are always exceptional (thankfully). When your flight is delayed or cancelled because of them, you are not entitled to compensation.
Not only do ash clouds drastically reduce the vilibility for pilots, they are also very dangerous for the aircraft, as they can cause serious engine damage.
An infamous exemple of such event in recent years is the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010, which resulted in the interruption of all air traffic in a large part of Europe, as the winds were carring the ash clouds over a large portion of the continent.
Note that although you're not eligible to compensation when your flight was disrupted because of an ash cloud, the airline must still respect your "right to care" and provide refreshments, a meal, and overnight accommodation if necessary.
Can I claim compensation for flight delays caused by turbulence?
In theory, severe turbulence forcing the pilot to divert and land the plane in emergency would indeed be regarded as extraordinary circumstances. But these are so rare that it's more likely that you are entitled to compensation if the airline tells you that your flight was delayed because of turbulence.
Can I Claim Compensation for a Cancelled or Delayed Flight because of Bad Weather?
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.
As we explained before, what you 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 EC261. You must also know whether the delay/cancellation was the result of a decision for Air Traffic Control or not.
How to know whether you're eligible or not?
Only problem is: how can YOU know if the weather was "bad enough" for the airline not to operate the flight on time?
How can YOU know for sure if it was indeed ATC that decided to ground the plane you were supposed to take?
There isn't much you can do to get an answer to these questions. And you shouldn't always take the airline's word for it, because they use the bad weather excuse too easily, to alleviate themselves from the payment of your due compensation.
ClaimCompass has access to these answers
While it is hard for you to demonstrate that the fligt could have been operated as planned, ClaimCompass has access to flight and weather reports allowing us to prove whether or not you're entitled to compensation.
We check the weather at each airport (departure and arrival) and consult our flight database to verify if your flight was the only one that was disrupted. We can then determine your eligibility.
This has allowed us to help several passengers get their money when the airline had initially told them that they were not eligible because the disruption (bad weather) was an extraordinary circumstance.
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.
Bottom line, weather is regarded as an extraodinary circumstance only when:
- The flight was directly affected by "wholly exceptional" weather
- The decision to cancel or delay the flight came from Air Traffic Control (ATC)
- The decision of ATC results in a knock-on effect that impacts your flight
- The whole airport is closed due to bad weather
And hopefully, soon, airlines will be able to get you to our destination on time even when bad weather strikes:
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