What are extraordinary circumstances when a flight is delayed or cancelled?
by Craig Goodspeed
Extraordinary circumstances like bad weather, strikes, or medical emergencies may prevent you from receiving financial compensation of €250, €400 or €600 for your delayed, misconnected or cancelled flight, or denied boarding.
Unfortunately, it’s true! But it’s also true that some airlines abuse this argument to justify flight disruptions and to not pay flight compensation.
Examples of extraordinary circumstances:
Very bad weather – including low visibility, windstorms, snowstorms, and any extreme weather conditions
Strikes of airport staff, fuel suppliers or air traffic control (excluding airline staff)
Political and civil unrest
Air traffic control decisions
Bear with me, I will explain in a moment what extraordinary circumstances are and I will give you examples of situations that are often considered extraordinary circumstances by airlines, but which are actually not.
What exactly are extraordinary circumstances?
I will help you understand everything about this topic!
Extraordinary circumstances are events or situations that are beyond the control of the airline, that the airline could not have anticipated, and that end up causing your flight to be delayed or cancelled.
Note that these circumstances only unentitles you to compensation, however the airline still must provide care (food, hotel, etc) and free rerouting or refund even in cases of natural disaster, stikes, whatever.
Here’s a list of extraordinary circumstances that legally excuse the airline from paying compensation, according to to EU Regulation 261/2004:
1 – Bad weather
Adverse weather conditions such as storms, snow, freezing rain or heavy fog exempt airlines from paying financial compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight.
You might have seen other flights taking off while yours remains stranded. This means nothing because the bad weather might be on the destination.
Anyway, under similar weather conditions, a captain may decide to land or take off, while other may not, and the captain is the flight’s supreme authority.
You hardly will ever be able to challenge his judgement and decisions.
Bad weather conditions can provide some airlines a good false excuse for not paying flight compensations.
Without the help of a claiming company you will have a hard time trying to prove that it was not the adverse weather conditions that caused the flight disruption, and your testimony as a witness is just your word against theirs.
So, unless you are sure that the bad weather really was the cause of the flight disruption, you should be represented by specialists like Aireclaim who have big weather and other technical databases and can check your case and fight for your compensation.
Aireclaim is used to deal with airlines, and have pilots, lawyers and other specialists able to understand such technical stuff and even argue back.
2 – Air sector strikes
Under european rules, airport personnel or air traffic control strikes are also considered extraordinary circumstances.
An airport’s baggage handlers strike can also apply to this scenario.
Unlike for adverse weather conditions, in this case it is not difficult for the passenger to know what motivated the flight delay, cancellation, or denied boarding.
If you are sure the cause is a strike, then forget it and don’t waste your time, you will never receive a compensation.
But if the strike is inside your airline, then you still are entitled even though some airlines do not recognize this.
3 – Bird strikes
A collision between an aircraft and a bird is a bird strike.
Bird strikes have been included in the list of extraordinary circumstances since 2017, after a decision from the European Court of Justice, as they cannot be predicted by the airline.
However some courts ruled the opposite way, arguing that it is a known risk and a part of the airlines daily operation.
4 – Natural disasters
A volcanic eruption or a hurricane can also be presented as valid reasons to exempt airlines from blame for the delay or cancellation of a flight.
Of all the extraordinary circumstances that prevent passengers from receiving financial compensation for their flights, natural disasters are the most unpredictable of all.
Mother Nature is changing.
5 – Security Threats and Political and Civil Unrest
Terrorist attacks, political disturbances or other events that endanger the safety of passengers and cabin crew are obviously circumstances that are also beyond the control of the airline, since they cannot prevent them, much less predict them.
6 – Medical emergencies and rowdy passengers
If a medical emergency occurs during a flight (with a passenger or even a member of the crew), the pilot may be required to divert the plane from its route so that all necessary urgent medical care is provided.
In these cases, the airline cannot be held responsible for flight delays, for example.
How do I really know if my flight problem was due to an extraordinary circumstance?
There’s no easy answer. Try to find out more about why the flight was delayed or cancelled. You can speak directly with the airline or the staff of your flight for more detailed information, but many times they do not know or are not allowed to disclose.
Now that you know better the rules, if you are not convinced, you can enforce your legal rights and file a claim.
I suggest Aireclaim because this is a very efficient company that uses extensive aeronautical databases and other sources to get all the information.
They have high grade specialists and can look into your situation and fight for your rights. They will analyze individually your case for free. See here how they can help you.
You guessed it right, I am a big fan of Aireclaim because I and my family already received 3200€ for several flight problems thanks to this company.
Examples of situations that are often considered extraordinary circumstances by airlines but which are actually not
1 – Technical issues
Several Courts ruled that technical problems are not extraordinary circumstances, since regular maintenance of their planes should be the airlines biggest responsibility.
If your flight was delayed or cancelled and the airline alleged technical problems, know that this is not considered an extraordinary circumstance, according to EU rules.
2 – Airline personnel strikes
Flight delays or cancellations due to a strike within the airline can be controversial when claiming financial compensation for your flight.
But in reality it is simple: if decisions made internally by the airline’s management lead to the dissatisfaction of its workers, and therefore to a strike, the airline will not be able to invoke extraordinary circumstances since it was its actions that led to this outcome.
3 – Knock-on effects
When a flight is delayed because of the late arrival of a previous flight flown by the same aircraft it is called a knock-on effect.
However, according to EU Regulation 261/2004, these domino effects do not automatically release the airline from the responsibility of paying financial compensation to passengers affected by flight disruptions.
Having some standby crews and aircrafts strategically parked somewhere in Europe, able to reach any european airport in less than 3 hours in order to replace a missing aircraft, though expensive, is a solution within the airline’s control.
Why in some circunstances I cannot claim a flight compensation?
I remind you that compensation might be due if your flight reached its final destination more than 3 hours later than expected or your flight was cancelled without you being notified in time by the airline.
Obviously, if the airline invokes an “extraordinary circumstance” for the disruption of your flight, and it is proved that it really was the reason for the delay or cancellation, then you will not be entitled to receive financial compensation.
False Extraordinary Circumstances
As I have already explained, some airlines often claim false extraordinary circumstances to justify flight delays and cancellations.
This strategy results very well with unprotected passengers (those who claim alone directly to the airline, without specialists Aireclaim) saving millions of euros every year because most passengers just give up claiming compensation for their flight inconveniences.
They are unable to argue back, and hiring a lawyer is more expensive than the compensation’s amount, even if they can find a lawyer with know-how in this specialized area.
Now you can easily understand why airlines usually hate claiming companies like Aireclaim.
By the way, did you notice that many flights permanently arrive 20 or even 30 minutes earlier than expected ?
Did you ever question why some airlines fake the flight time adding extra minutes? Here are the 2 reasons:
1-They get a good on-time reputation even when the flight is moderately delayed;
2- They do not pay compensation for delays up to 3h30m instead of 3 hours. This strategy saves millions.
That’s all! If you have any doubts I suggest you contact Aireclaim. Its free. They can really help you.
See you soon!
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Craig has a big interest and deep knowledge in the Air Passenger’s Rights. He is a frequent traveller and loves to share guides, tutorials and tips to help people make the most of travel.
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AIR PASSENGERS RIGHTS eu
According to European regulation CE 261/2004 and other rulings, an air passenger has 3 cumulative rights:
rerouting or refund
They are cumulative and free. The first is automatic, the 2nd is to be settled, the last must be requested.
Airlines are heavily fined if they fail these obligations.
-The care obligation applies after you wait 2 to 4 hours to depart (depends on the flight distance and other details), when you miss a connecting flight in the same booking, your boarding is denied, your ongoing flight is diverted or your canceled flight is rerouted. Terminates with ticket refund or reschedule or upon your final arrival to your destination or, in same cases, back home.
It consists of: food, taxi/bus, hotel and includes reasonable expenses like gilletes, underwear, urgent medicamenta, battery charger, phone calls, etc. If (only if) the airline does not provide this, you can act on your own, keeping all receipts for future refund by the airline.
-The rerouting / refund Right is due upon some types of cancelation (see other section), or after 5 hours departure delay and you asked to leave, or upon earlier initiative of the airline.
Yours is the choice between being refunded or rerouted using the alternative offered by the airline (probably the earliest). In this case, they will pay all care expenses until you reach your destination, unless you refuse their alternative and choose to postpone your flight.
Extra payments shall never be demanded. In case of class downgrade a partial ticket refund is due.
If the trip lost its purpose (example: you go to a concert) you can ask to be delivered back to your original airport at no extra cost and receive refund for the unused flights.
Or you can ask to change the unused flights to another day.
If your booking includes more connected or return flights, these rules apply to all, as a set.
After this right is used, no more “care” is due (as also after arrival to the last destination in the booking).
-The compensation Right applies in case of:
- delays of more than three hours upon arrival,
- cancellations, unless if you were informed more than 14 days before,
- flight misconnections within the same booking
- refusal to board (unless the blame is yours)
and entitle each passenger to a monetary compensation of €250 to €600 (halved in a few situations) in accordance to the flight distance and other criteria, to be paid by the operating airline, the one that supplied the aircraft and crew (sometimes it is not the same airline that sold your ticket, due to codeshare agreements).
For all 3 rights:
-All flights inside the European Union are included. Also other flights operated by EU airlines as long as they depart or arrive to an European airport. If the airline is not European, only flights departing from an EU airport are included.
Obviously, EU laws do not apply to flights starting and ending outside EU, even if the airline is European.
-Besides EU countries, Swiss, Norway and Iceland also adhered to this regulation. Other countries might have similar regulations (Canada, India, USA, Turkey,…) not covered by our services.
-All passengers have these rights, even those that are not EU citizens and/or live outside the EU.
-Children are entitled too unless they travel for free.
-Care and Compensation are due to you, the victim. Ticket refund is usually sent to whom payed the ticket, though the law says it should be paid to the passenger.
-Travel agents and booking companies are out of these obligations. Some try to help passengers however they are very inefficient claiming compensations because this is out of their scope (some forward us those problems).
Many situations are not covered by ruling 261/04 (examples: the opposite of a delay, the advanced flight; multi-flight bookings partially outside EU). Others are not clear (example: “extraordinary circumstances”, “flight distance”, etc). Some posterior rulings and judgments made things clearer, but still there is a lot of controversy about many situations, that airlines try to use to avoid payments.
In case of compensation (not boarding denial, rerouting/refund or care) the 261/2004 ruling exempts the airline from the obligation to pay in special situations like bad weather, union strikes (outside the company), terrorist acts, security issues, air traffic control decisions, and some other not so clear situations.
This allows airlines to reject most claims and require deep expertise to investigate and contest. Frequently, our audit shows that the alleged circumstances are not true and our conclusions are later confirmed in Court or by the aeronautical enforcement body.
These rights can be claimed during the next 2 to 10 years, depending on the country, most usually 3 or 5 years. Try to remember your past flight problems, then claim.
We can check your case, just email us at email@example.com and tell us your story. We will inform your rights and your best solution (no payment, no bureaucracy).
Or you can check yourself here, then file your claim if you wish.
|< 1500 km||250€|
|1500 – 3500 km||400€|
|> 3500km||600€ if 1 airport is not EU
400€ if inside EU
As ruling 261/04 failed to clearly address many points, it is usually accepted (tacitly or forced by posterior judgements) that:
For every 2 hours delay some beverage should be offered to passengers unless it delays the boarding itself.
In case of misconnection the delay is measured upon the final destination and compensation is due only if all flights belong to the same booking.
In such case, distance is measured between first and last airport (but many people consider the total of all legs should be used, other consider the actual flown path because the law says “flight distance”).
Time of arrival is the time of the first opening of an aircraft (passenger) door.
If diverted or rerouted to another airport the passenger must be offered land or air transport to the original destination airport.
Technical problems are not special circumstances outside the control of the airline.
Though not included in ruling 261/04 this situation was addressed and ruled by some Court decisions, being usually accepted that:
When booking, it is the airline’s responsability to allow enough time clearance between 2 flights booked together, so compensation is due even for delays in the 1st flight less than 3 hours, provided the passenger arrives more than 3 hours late after rerouting.
In such case, after rerouting, the final arrival to the last airport is used to compute distance and time delay relative to the original flight, as if all flown flights were only one.
Then all other rules (see above) about flight delay apply.
In case the flight is cancelled, passengers have both these rights:
Reimbursement of the ticket price corresponding to the part of the journey that was not journeyed, as well as the part already journeyed if the purpose of the flight is no longer possible or existent
Free rerouting(not necessarily by air route) as soon as possible or at another time if the passenger prefers, either to the final destination or to the original airport of departure.
Compensation according to the flight distance:
|< 1500 km||250€|
|1500 – 3500 km||400€|
|> 3500km||600€ if 1 airport is not EU
400€ if inside EU
However, if an alternative flight is offered arriving earlier, at the same time or later a few hours, the compensation is halved :
|Distance||Intra CE||Extra CE|
|< 1500 km||< 2 Hours||125€||< 2 Hours||125€|
|1500 – 3000 km||< 3 Hours||200€||< 3 Hours||200€|
|> 3500km||< 3 Hours||200€||< 4 Hours||300€|
Note that this only applies to rerouting in sequence of cancellation, not to delays or other situations.
There are some exceptions. Compensation is not due if :
The cancellation was informed to the passenger 2 weeks or more prior to the flight.
The passenger was informed between 1 and 2 weeks before and was offered alternative flight departing less than 2 hours earlier or arriving no more than 4 hours later compared to the original flight.
The passenger was informed less than 1 week before and the airline provides a flight leaving up to 1 hour earlier and arriving no more than 2 hours later.
Some companies sell more tickets than seats available on the aircraft, in the statistical expectation that some passengers don’t show. Companies also reroute passengers from cancelled and overbooked flights to other flights possibly exceeding seat count, resulting in denial of board.
In case of boarding denial, the passenger is entitled to compensation regardless of the cause.
Usually airlines request voluntary passengers to cede their seats and take a later flight, possibly offering some hotel and/or food vouchers or other incentives. Their offer is probably inferior to the compensation that will then be renounced, so usually your better option is to refuse an agreement and contact us.
Then you will have the compensation, plus the replacement flight, plus food and hotel until you reach your destination.
As the law allows airlines to reject payments in special cases, but failed to clearly specify such conditions, many airlines permanently abuse of this, specially when facing a passenger that claims directly, without support of an expert company like Aireclaim.
This works very well and saves them millions: Airlines just deny compensation based on technical arguments accepted (or not) by the UE laws, then 99% passengers will not be able to verify or contest (as we can). Even if they could, surely they would not enforce their rights (as we would) due to tremendous troubles, required know-how and high lawyer+court expenses.
However there are many legitimate situations, when airlines are not required to pay compensations, named “exceptional circumstances”. They do not apply to your other rights (care and refund/rerouting) and never apply in case of boarding denial.
DO NOT waste your time claiming if any point in this list applies to you (but don’t believe everything the attendants tell you):
- the cause was (and you are sure) bad weather, terrorism, Air Traffic Control or strikes (but not strikes inside the airline).
- the delay upon arrival was less than 3 hours;
- the cancellation was informed to you 2 or more weeks before the scheduled flight;
- your flight to EU departed from a non-EU country and the operating airline (the one that supplied the aircraft and crew) is not based in EU;
- your missed connection flight does not share the same booking with the late flight;
- you arrived late to the gate or missed some documents.
Technical problems are one of the most frequent arguments used by airlines to refuse compensation. That’s because, unlike weather for example, they are very difficult to be contested by the passenger or his lawyer. However we can easily enforce such payments with almost 100% success rate.
Furthermore, please note that airlines have no obligation to refund expenses:
- without proving document;
- after final arrival, including transport to home, or extra parking fee;
- missed hotel, concert, etc that you booked and could not use;
- lost working days or bad image that you suffered in your job;
- unapproved replacement flights in another airline;
- care expenses after you accepted ticket refund or postponed the flight (this is one of the reasons you should not rush claiming to the airline, but get our help instead).
For these kind of expenses we suggest that you check if you have an insurance (credit card, travel assistance, etc).
Ruling 261/2004 does not address these situations because it intends to compensate problems like these, so they would be compensated twice.
Anyway, all legal systems worldwide under certain conditions enforce a redress obligation (usually for 3-6 years) to those who cause prejudices, so you can still claim in Court under common law if you hire a lawyer, though your chances are probably low.
We do not handle the mentioned cases because we are highly specialized on ruling 261/2004. We also do not handle luggage claims.
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