It’s a familiar image: the family all set for a holiday, up at the crack of dawn and speeding on down to the airport, passports in hand, only to come to a screeching halt because the plane – for which you arrived an hour or two early – is delayed for an hour, or four hours, or for some period of time that the magic eight ball of the customer services desk is unable to determine right now, please ask again later.
There is, in fact, a whole statute devoted to this annoyance of modern-day life, grandly known as the EU Flight Delay Regulations, the main effects of which can he found here. This applies to flights within the EU, and imposes various duties on the airline to blunt the discomfort and inconvenience that delays cause. After all, airports have plenty of amenities, but (having spent a night in one myself, waiting for a plane) nobody wants to live there for any length of time.
A recent legal decision has come down soundly on the side of the consumer in a case brought against Ryanair relating to when compensation can be claimed. The usual limitation period for contractual claims under UK law is six years from the date the cause of action arose – in this case the delay to the flight. This time limit for flight delay claims was confirmed by the Supreme Court last year. However, Ryanair has subsequently had some success relying on a clause in its terms and conditions stating that, by agreeing to those terms, a customer also agrees not to bring any claims after two years have passed.
The new decision out of Manchester County Court, though, has ruled that Ryanair’s contractual clause is in direct contravention of Article 15 of the EU regulations, which prevent the limiting or waiver of liability by airlines. The rationale behind this Article is, of course, that customers are seldom in a position to argue the individual terms and conditions of a contract, and so need protection from exploitation by unfair terms being imposed on them.
Although it is usually advisable to act promptly when seeking compensation, if only because evidence and memories will be fresher, this decision allows anyone who has suffered delays or cancellations within the last 2-6 years, who might otherwise have been excluded by terms and conditions, to bring a claim for compensation – opening the floodgates for those delayed at the flight gates. Whilst individual claims will likely be small, the potential cost to Ryanair has been estimated to exceed £600 million.