Can passengers receive compensation for canceled flights from air-flight companies when a flight is canceled due to unforeseen technical problems? This is a specific question we recently received from many of our readers. So, we wanted to bring some clarifications on it in an article, so everybody can refer to it.
The answer is: Yes, passengers are entitled to receive compensation for canceled flights due to unforeseen technical problems. This is as per the decision already established by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) back in 2014. Although technical problems can be considered as exceptional circumstances, which can justify not compensating the passengers, this exception only applies in certain situations, says the Court.
When air carriers cancel flights, European law clearly states that passengers must receive assistance and compensation for canceled flights from the air carriers. If there are considerable delays or cancellations of flights, passengers are entitled to receive assistance and an allowance of between 250 and 600 euros, according to EU law.
However, the same law says that airlines can be exempt from the compensation of damages if they can prove that the cancellation of a flight is based on extraordinary circumstances. But in the ECJ Decision in Case C-257/14 the judges appreciate that the technical failures can rarely be included in this category.
They say that the obligation to compensate a passenger for a canceled flight is valid even if the cancellation is caused by unforeseen technical problems.
The Court acknowledges indeed that from the case-law it follows that technical problems can be considered as exceptional circumstances. However, in the same time, the Court says that: “the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of such problems cannot be considered “exceptional” unless they refer to an event that is not inherent to the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and escapes from its effective control due to its nature or origin.”
Thus, since aircraft problems inevitably arise in the operation of aircraft, air carriers are usually faced with such problems in their activity. In this regard, ECJ says that technical problems discovered during the maintenance of the aircraft or because of deficiencies in these works cannot, in themselves, constitute “exceptional circumstances”. So, in all these circumstances the passenger is entitled to receive compensation for significantly delayed or canceled flights.
The ECJ decision citied above was given in a case concerning the delay of a flight of the Dutch airline KLM. Specifically, the plane arrived at its destination with a delay of 29 hours due to unforeseen technical problems.