Exceptional circumstances for air passenger rights
The Air Passenger Rights Ordinance does not provide a uniform definition for this. What is meant, however, are circumstances that do not correspond to the ordinary course of events, but lie outside of what is usually associated with the course of passenger transportation by air. Put simply, the airline is not responsible for the delay or cancellation of the flight. For example, a medical emergency can cause delays at any time. In such cases, the airline may invoke an extraordinary circumstance. However, a medical emergency does not exist if a flight is delayed due to the illness of a crew member, as the airline must provide substitutes for such cases.
Compensation payments in the event of extraordinary circumstances
The EU Passenger Rights Regulation grants passengers extensive rights. These range from compensation payments to care services. Nevertheless, airlines should not be unfairly disadvantaged. In favor of the airline, there are some constellations that exempt from an obligation to pay. Therefore, it is true that airlines do not have to pay compensation in exceptional circumstances.
According to the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, extraordinary circumstances are defined as:
- Bad weather conditions
- Strikes (depending on the individual case)
- Terrorist threat/ political instability
- Natural disasters (e.g. ash cloud)
- Emergency landings (e.g. after medical incidents)
In the event of technical defects, you are usually entitled to compensation.
Recognized extraordinary circumstances that preclude payment of compensation:
Severe weather and natural disasters
If a flight is delayed or even canceled altogether due to a snowstorm or severe thunderstorm, travelers are not entitled to compensation because severe weather is not the airline’s responsibility. Other weather phenomena or natural disasters such as a volcanic eruption can also lead to delays and cancellations in air travel, for which travelers are not entitled to compensation.
Security always comes first in air travel. A terrorist attack can cause delays in air traffic worldwide, even if your own country is not affected at all. Flights are organized internationally in slots, which define the time windows for arriving and departing aircraft. A regional disruption can therefore quickly affect the entire system.
Bird strike refers to the collision of a bird with an airplane. One would think that a small bird can’t harm a huge airplane – wrongly thought. If crows, cranes and co. fly into the aircraft engine, serious damage is often the result. According to the European Air Passenger Rights Regulation, a bird strike that results in a flight delay or cancellation is considered an extraordinary circumstance.
Whether a strike is considered an extraordinary circumstance and thus exempts the airline from paying compensation must be considered in a differentiated manner. Courts take different views on this from country to country. In Germany, any form of strike was considered an extraordinary circumstance until 2018. However, this changed with a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on April 17, 2018. Since then, wildcat strikes, i.e. work stoppages not legitimized under labor and collective bargaining law, are no longer considered an extraordinary circumstance in every case. However, many special cases have yet to be clarified. However, German courts tend to exempt airlines from paying compensation in the event of strikes. A uniform clarification throughout Europe is still pending.
Small consolation: even if the airline is not at fault, travelers are entitled to care lines.
Caution: Sometimes airlines cite extraordinary circumstances as the reason for a delay or flight cancellation. Do not be fooled by this. Check your claim for compensation with our free compensation calculator and let our travel law experts help you.