Tens of thousands of passengers could benefit after court rules against airline on flight delays

Business

Passengers are entitled to compensation for a flight cancelled due to airline staff illness, the UK’s highest court has ruled.

“Tens of thousands” of claims made annually could potentially be affected, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday afternoon.

The case was brought against British Airways (BA) by a couple whose flight was cancelled due to the pilot being sick and the fact no replacement was available.

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Does it matter who is sick or when?

BA had argued this was an “extraordinary circumstance” which was out of their control and could not be avoided – a situation in which airlines do not have to pay compensation.

But the Supreme Court said staff illness was not an “extraordinary circumstance” and so an award was owed, even though the pilot in question fell ill while off work.

“These are all inherent in the carrier’s activity and operations and if, for whatever reason, they are unable to attend for work as a result of something going awry during those rest periods, whether it is their fault or not, that failure to attend is not an extraordinary circumstance,” the Supreme Court’s decision read.

The question of when or who fell ill doesn’t matter, the Supreme Court said.

The court said the crew member was an “inherent part of the airline’s operation” even when not on duty.

It added: “The same is also true of the need for the captain and other cabin crew to ensure that they are properly rested during stopovers.

“They have numerous obligations both to their employers and to the public during those periods.”

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‘Succeeded against all odds’

The couple who took the case against BA, Kenneth and Linda Lipton, arrived two and a half hours late on their journey from London to Milan after their original flight was cancelled when the pilot fell ill while off duty.

The UK airline had refused to pay £220 in compensation for the delay.

Two courts had originally upheld BA’s position but the Court of Appeal then ruled in the couple’s favour, with the airline then taking the case to the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices unanimously dismissed the company’s appeal.

A statement from the couple’s law firm, Irwin Mitchell, said: “Their insistence to continue this battle to the highest court in the land has now met with the correct conclusion and our significantly smaller but no less wily team has succeeded against all odds.”

A spokesperson for BA said: “We are disappointed with this decision and respect the judgment of the court.”

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