Court rules airlines can’t use staff sickness as excuse to avoid compensating passengers

Flight cancellation compensation
By Linsey McNeill
11/07/2024
Home » Court rules airlines can’t use staff sickness as excuse to avoid compensating passengers

British Airways CityFlyer has lost its five-year battle to avoid paying a couple £220 each compensation for a cancelled flight, which could open the floodgates to more claims. 

The airline had refused to compensate Mr and Mrs Lipton when their flight from Milan to London City in January 2018 was cancelled because the pilot was sick and didn’t turn up for work.

Since CityFlyer couldn’t find another pilot at short notice, the couple was put on an alternative flight, which got them to London 2.5 hours later than their original flight.

CityFlyer said the pair wasn’t entitled to compensation because staff sickness was an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ outside its control.

However, the Supreme Court upheld a Court of Appeal decision that staff sickness is not an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, which airlines can use to get out of paying compensation under Regulation 261.

In fact, in its ruling, the Supreme Court said: “Staff illness is commonplace for any business. Just as the wear and tear of an aircraft’s physical components is considered an inherent part of an air carrier’s activity, so too is managing illness of staff.”

It added: “An event can be external to a carrier but still inherent to its operations.

“It is irrelevant whether staff fall ill whilst they are off-duty; their attendance or non-attendance for work is an inherent part of the carrier’s operating system.”

Consumer association Which? said the ruling was ‘highly significant’ for ‘hundreds and thousands’ of UK passengers as the peak summer season approaches.

Director of Policy and Advocacy Rocio Concha said: “Due to a lack of clarity in the rules, airlines have too often been able to pass off events travellers might consider ‘business as usual’ as extraordinary circumstances, and in so doing avoid paying compensation to passengers under EC261.

“However, even when consumers’ entitlement to compensation is clear, we too often hear of passengers struggling to get the money they are owed. It is therefore imperative the government prioritises giving the Civil Aviation Authority stronger powers, including direct fining powers, so it can properly hold airlines to account when they fail to comply with consumer protection laws.”

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