Thousands of air passengers could benefit from a court decision this week which ruled that lightning strikes are not one of the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that excuse airlines from paying flight delay compensation.
Judge Melissa Clarke ruled in favour of two passengers in an appeal case against Monarch Airlines at Reading County Court.
The passengers, Michael Evans and his partner Julie Lee, were awarded €600 (£450) each for a five-hour flight delay.
According to law firm Bott and Co Solicitors, which acted for Mr Evans, the decision will be ‘highly persuasive’ in flight delay cases involving lightning in English and Welsh courts.
“Although the decision is not legally binding on other courts, it follows an appeal hearing at Luton County Court, where a large amount of flight delay cases are heard, and is the lead case on the issue of lightning strikes,” it said.
Bott and Co says the ruling could benefit 54,000 delayed passengers across the different airlines, totalling £17.6million in flight delay compensation.
Although the vast majority of aircraft that are struck by lightning arrive safely and on time, delays can occur when the plane lands and is subject to mandatory safety checks and the airline does not have relief aircraft in place.
In this case, Monarch did not have spare aircraft available at Gatwick or Hurghada so passengers had to wait for the plane that had been struck by lightning to be checked in Gatwick
Monarch tried to argue that this should have been considered an ‘unexpected flight safety shortcoming’, which is one of the events the regulations state might be an extraordinary circumstance.
But Her Honour Judge Melissa Clarke ruled: “Damage caused by a lightning strike may well be an unexpected flight safety shortcoming, but that does not make it an exceptional circumstance […]an unexpected flight safety shortcoming is only an exceptional circumstance if it is not inherent within the normal exercise of the carrier’s activity”
Bott and Co flight delay lawyer Kevin Clarke said: “This case is about the airline industry having absolutely no measures in place to deal with issues which occur on a day to day basis.
“Bad weather is not the airline’s fault, but the law says it is their responsibility. If airlines are not willing to put measures in place to deal with delays caused by weather – something which is a daily concern for them – they must be prepared to compensate passengers for their loss of time.”
The Civil Aviation Authority includes lightning strikes in its list of extraordinary circumstances, but Judge Clarke said in her ruling that the list is not legally binding and has been proven wrong in court a number of times.
A Monarch spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the judgement and are reviewing it.”