List of Extraordinary Circumstances - Flight Delay Compensation

According to European Regulation 261/2004, if you have experienced a delay of over 3 hours you may be entitled to flight delay compensation of up to €600. You may also be eligible for missed connection compensation if you could not board your outbound flight due to a delay of your previous flight.

The process of claiming flight compensation can often be extremely convoluted and time-consuming. One of the common reasons for this is that airlines often cite extraordinary circumstances as the reason for a flight delay. Incidentally, this is one of the few excuses EC261 provides them with.

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Extraordinary circumstances could be the difference between getting your compensation for your delayed flight and not. Thus, it is very important to know what constitutes extraordinary circumstances. And more importantly-- what does not.

In this article, we will present a detailed list of extraordinary circumstances for flight delays and cancellations and explain what each instance could mean to your right to compensation.

Here we go.

What constitutes Extraordinary Circumstances in the context of flight delays?

Of course, airlines would not always be responsible for a delay, cancellation or denied boarding. Sometimes, there are events that can affect your flight which are truly impossible for the air carrier to prevent or mitigate.

We are used to it—no one expects things to run smoothly when there’s a snowstorm and we don’t blame anyone for it.

Therefore, airlines are not required to bear the burden of paying compensation in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

finnair airplane taxingBroadly defined, the term “extraordinary circumstances” describes any set of conditions or events that prevent a flight from departing on time, despite the airline having taken all reasonable measures to avoid the disruption.

This legal lingo allows us to differentiate between the delays and cancellations which were caused by the airline’s negligence and situations in which no action by the carrier could have changed the situation.

Simply put, it indicates a case in which a disruption was not the airline’s fault.

List of extraordinary circumstances in the context of flight delays

Extraordinary circumstances include:

  • Inclement weather conditions (including low visibility, windstorms, snowstorms, and any extreme weather conditions.)
  • Union and airport personnel strikes
  • Bird strikes
  • Air traffic control restrictions (including runway closures)
  • Political or civil unrest
  • Security risks
  • Hidden manufacturing defects
  • Medical emergencies (may vary from situation to situation)

Bad Weather

Weather conditions can be very nuanced. Under similar circumstances, one aircraft may be able to complete a flight on time, while another may not. Also, crosswinds can prevent a flight from taking off or landing on time, while even stronger headwinds may not affect the flight much.

In addition, weather conditions are sensitive and fluctuate throughout the course of a day. Within an hour or two, mellow conditions can become prohibitive which could cause delays and/or cancelled flights.

airport cargo bad weather

Because there are so many variables, it is very difficult to prove that the weather actually caused a flight delay. In some cases, a claim for flight delay compensation may need to be reviewed by the local Civil Aviation Authority. This body will determine if the weather conditions were indeed extreme. What is more, from the list of extraordinary circumstances, it is the most commonly cited excuse given by airlines.

After all, political or civil unrest in the European Union would be all over the news.

Due to these complexities, it is important to have an expert by your side, who would be able to perform in-depth analysis on your behalf. At SkyRefund we offer just this. We will investigate the reasons behind your flight delay and if there were any extraordinary circumstances. If the weather conditions were permissive, we will ensure that your passenger rights under Regulation EC 261 are protected and you get your flight delay compensation.

Most strikes are seen as extraordinary circumstances

Official strikes of the airport personnel and all traffic control strikes are considered extraordinary circumstances. This is why, under EU rules, flight delay compensation need not be paid.

Unfortunately, it is often very difficult for passengers to find out the reason behind a strike. Therefore, all claims for flight delay compensation need to be assessed on an individual basis in order to discern the nature of each particular strike.

Bird Strikes

After a 2017 decision of the European Court of Justice, bird strikes have been considered part of the list of extraordinary circumstances. Effectively, the court has decided that bird strikes are not inherent to the operations of the airlines. Moreover, to prevent them, the airline would have to go out of its way. Now that bird strikes are considered extraordinary circumstances, flight delay compensation does not need to be distributed to air passengers.

passenger timetable

Runway Closures

All decisions made by the airport traffic control (ATC) take precedence over the flight schedule. If a flight is delayed due to a runway closure or any other instruction by the control tower, airlines are required to oblige. Therefore, all traffic control orders are accepted as extraordinary circumstances and, in the event of a delay, airlines are not required to pay compensation.

Political and Civil Unrest and other Security Threats

Naturally, if there is a security risk to the air passengers and the flight crew, a flight delay or cancellation would be beside the matter. Any such events are, of course, extraordinary as the airline could not prevent or ameliorate problems of this magnitude.

Hidden manufacturing defects

Most technical issues are not considered extraordinary circumstances as in most cases they appear as part of the inherent operations of the airline. Hidden manufacturing defects, however, would be a part of the aircraft production process. Therefore, if any arise, they would be considered as extraordinary circumstances and passengers would not have grounds to claim flight compensation.

Medical emergencies

If a medical emergency occurs during a flight, the flight may have to be diverted. In some cases, this may be the only way for a passenger or crew member to receive urgent attention as soon as possible. If this happens, passengers would not be entitled to compensation as in-flight medical emergencies would be listed as extraordinary circumstances.

It’s a little more complicated if a crew member calls in sick before a flight. The airline is required to take all reasonable preventive measures to avoid the delay or cancellation. In most cases, this would be done by calling on another available crew member. In some instances, however, this would not be possible and the airline could claim extraordinary circumstances for the flight delay.

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These are not Extraordinary circumstances- claim flight delay compensation

The details of the listed events will vary from case to case. For most of these situations, there are cases in which passengers would be entitled to claim a refund.

The following are not extraordinary circumstances and passengers will be eligible to claim EU flight delay compensation: 

Knock-on effects

In some cases, airlines will claim that knock-on effects were responsible for a disruption. These are said to occur when subsequent flights are disrupted due to the delay or cancellation of a previous flight, usually due to bad weather.

For example, imagine a flight which arrives late due to inclement weather. If the inbound aircraft is meant to serve another flight in due course, the latter might also suffer.

Airlines would often cite extraordinary circumstances, even though they did not apply directly to the second flight. But according to European court decisions, extraordinary circumstances are said to have deterred a flight only when they have affected the flight in question.

Therefore, knock-on effects are not accepted as extraordinary circumstances valid excuse for a disruption. If you suffered from one, you could be eligible for flight delay compensation.

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Technical issues are not considered extraordinary circumstances

While certain instances of extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather are categorically outside the airline’s powers to prevent, others are definitely not.

Avoidance of technical malfunctioning of the aircraft apparatus is wholly within the airline’s control. Naturally, maintenance is a vital part of its responsibilities. This is why if your flight was delayed due to technical problems, and your arrival at your final destination was delayed by more than 3 hours, you would be eligible for compensation.

Airline personnel strikes are the carrier’s responsibility to prevent

According to a European Court of Justice ruling from April 2018, airlines are required to compensate passengers for their flight delays, even when a non-union strike of the airline personnel—a wildcat strike—is responsible for the delay or cancellation.

The premise is that it is within the airline management’s responsibilities to avoid any restructuring which may cause strikes. In other words, if the management’s decisions caused a flight delay, then a company cannot reasonably claim extraordinary circumstances for the flight delay.

What is more, this decision does not only cover all instances of wildcat strikes after April 2018. It also applies to any strikes before the decision. If you have suffered a flight delay or cancellation due to a wildcat strike in the past 3 years, then you could submit your claim for compensation.

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You have the right to care even in extraordinary circumstances

According to Regulation 261, if your flight was delayed or cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, the airline is required to provide you with food and drinks for the duration of your wait. The regulation defines this as the right to care.

The airline should give you vouchers. But if it doesn't, feel free to take matters into your own hands and purchase all the necessities you might need. Your carrier is required to reimburse you for your expenses.

It is very important to keep hold of your receipts, however. They are the only acceptable proof that you have in fact made these purchases.

If the airline provides you with a voucher and your expenses exceed its value, you can still get reimbursed for anything that went above its amount.


What if the airline claims extraordinary circumstances?

They often will. As mentioned above, it is the best way for an airline to avoid payment. Thus, it can be very difficult for individual passengers to disprove the carrier’s alleged reasons for the delay and to enforce their right to compensation.

This is why it is so important to have a reliable partner.

A Case Study: 

In early 2019, we received a compensation claim for two passengers on board a flight from London Luton to Athens. Everything was going smoothly and the travelers reached their gate well in advance.

Unfortunately, 30 minutes before their scheduled departure, they were informed that the flight has to be delayed. The air carrier’s representatives refused to give any information about the reason for the delay or an estimated time of departure.

After three hours had elapsed, the two passengers demanded vouchers for food but the airline refused to comply despite their obligation to do so under EU Regulation 261.

Do you remember what we said in an earlier paragraph? If the airline does not provide passengers with food vouchers, it is required to reimburse them for their necessary purchases. The travelers took advantage and kept their receipts so they could prove their food expenses later.

The flight departed with a delay of more than 4 hours and even though the crew managed to make up 45 minutes, it arrived 3:25 minutes late and its passengers were entitled to EU delay compensation.

After receiving the claim, our team at SkyRefund contacted the airline. Unfortunately, as it often happens, the carrier refused the claim by stating bad weather as the reason for the disruption.

With the help from our private databases, SkyRefund’s team conducted research into the meteorological conditions surrounding the flight and found that the aircraft in question was well capable of flying under the circumstances. We sent another letter to the airline with an extensive rebuttal of their bad weather claim. The main reason for the delay was a technical issue which could have been prevented by the airline.

After a week, the airline replied that it accepts the case for delayed flight compensation and will pay each passenger €400 for his or her disruption. Another week and they had received their money minus our 35% success fee.

Get your compensation with SkyRefund?

At SkyRefund we have an experienced team dedicated to get what is rightfully yours.

On our website, you will find our easy and intuitive compensation calculator, where we will need you to submit your flight details: flight number and date. Our lawyers and claim agents will take it from there to ensure that you receive what is yours. 

We will conduct a detailed analysis of all the circumstances surrounding your flight and we will legally enforce your rights in the dispute with the airline.

At SkyRefund, we work on a ‘No Win- No Fee’ policy. We charge a 35% only if we are successful with your claim. 

Do you have your flight details ready for us?

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