Compensation if flight delayed by strikes?

Finnair planeSteve Parsons/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Cuts at airports and airlines means that travellers have endured the misery of endless delays caused by strikes. As a rule, airlines don't have to pay out any compensation - because the strike is beyond their control and classed as an 'extraordinary circumstance.'

However, the European Court says that in some circumstances, they don't have this get-out clause.

The case

The European Court of Justice was ruling on a case regarding Timy Lassooy from Finland, whose Finnair flight from Barcelona to Helsinki was delayed, two days after a strike at Barcelona airport in 2006.

The airline had stuck to the argument that the strike was to blame, and that as it was an 'extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken', it didn't have to pay compensation.

The court ruled that this was no excuse - given that he was flying two days after the strike. It said: "The occurrence of extraordinary circumstances - such as a strike - resulting in an air carrier rescheduling subsequent flights does not give grounds for denying boarding or for exempting that carrier from its obligation to compensate passengers denied boarding on those later flights."

In other words, if you are delayed because of a strike - on the day of the strike itself - then you have no right to compensation. However, if you are travelling later, and get bumped off your flight to make way for those who are stranded by the strike, you should be compensated.

Because the airline chose to deny Lassooy the right to get on the flight he had booked - in favour of someone else - they were to blame, and had to pay compensation. The court explained: "That situation is comparable to a denial of boarding due to initial overbooking by the carrier for economic reasons."

He received the 400 euros compensation that he had been chasing for six years.

What it means for you

So is this good news for travellers? Not necessarily.

If you are in Lassooy's position, then this ruling will help you enforce your rights if you are bumped off a later flight. However, the response from Finnair was that it was useful to have the ruling as it would help airlines plan their strategies in similar circumstances.

In other words, airlines won't be bumping people so much in future. If you are caught in a strike, you are going to have to wait for a space on a flight before you can get out of the airport. If everything is fully-booked for days, you're stranded. And as the strike is not the fault of the airline, you won't be compensated.

It means that fewer people will be affected when there is a strike - but that those who are affected could end up delayed for days.

So what do you think? Was the court right or wrong? And was it worth a six year battle to get to this point?
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