EU airlines must now compensate you for delays on connecting flights

The European Union has extended its protection for airline passengers to cover delays or cancellations on connecting flights that operate outside the EU.

The EU has extended its protection for airline passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled. Image by Getty

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last week that EU airlines selling tickets to destinations beyond the EU must offer compensation to passengers if their connecting flight is delayed by more than three hours or cancelled, even if the delay is caused by another airline. Passengers can receive up to €600 ($700) in compensation.

Until last week this protection applied to flights departing or arriving in Europe. But a landmark case has extended the legislation to cover connecting flights on partner airlines or codeshare flights outside the EU, even if the airline operating the second leg of the journey is a non-EU based carrier.

Passengers are covered if their connecting flight is cancelled or significantly delayed. Image by Getty

Let's break down what this means for you, the airline passenger. Say you book a flight from London to Sydney via Hong Kong with British Airways under one booking reference. The flight from London to Hong Kong is on time but the second leg of the flight, operated by Cathay Pacific, is delayed by about four hours. The delay is Cathay Pacific's fault, right? In this hypothetical case, yes. And you'd expect Cathay Pacific to offer compensation, right? Well no, now it's actually British Airways' responsibility to compensate you as you booked the trip through British Airways.

Passengers have even more protection now if their flight is delayed or cancelled. Image by martin-dm

The ruling resulted from a case in which 11 passengers booked a flight to Bangkok from Prague via Abu Dhabi with Czech Airlines. The first leg of the flight, operated by Czech Airlines, arrived in Abu Dhabi on time but the connecting flight, operated by Etihad Airways, was delayed by eight hours and eight minutes. The ECJ ruled that Czech Airlines must compensate the passengers because they were the ones who sold the tickets.

“At AirHelp, we believe this decision to be a real game changer which has a significant impact on air passenger rights throughout Europe. For the first time, an airline may be liable for compensation for the mistakes of another. However, it does make sense from a passenger perspective that the passenger can claim with the airline that sold the passenger the ticket. We most definitely expect many airlines to be opposed to this decision, as is usually the case when the rights of their own customers are reinforced,” states Christian Nielsen, Chief Legal Officer at AirHelp

The court ruled: "A flight with one or more connections which is the subject of a single reservation constitutes a whole for the purposes of the right of passengers to compensation provided for in the regulation." However, it also ruled that the EU airline could sue the non-EU airline in order to "obtain redress for that financial cost." So, in this case, Czech Airlines can chase Etihad for the money they paid out in compensation.