How to claim compensation for flight disasters

A few weeks ago, I flew with my children to Bremen in Germany on Ryanair. I’m now so terrified of Ryanair that we check in online and take no luggage. So check in was easy. Security was also easy – no surprise, given that it was 5:30 am. Then the flight itself was a piece of cake. Not much more than a hour after we took off, we arrived at the exact place we had expected to arrive.

The only problem, and it wasn’t a small problem, was that the flight was scheduled to leave at 6:25 am (which is why I got the children out of bed at 4:30 am), but it didn’t actually leave until 10:55 am. We spent six and a half hours in the airport. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – we had breakfast, we watched a series of planes refuel, we talked about the class trip one of them had once taken to the air traffic control tower (it turns out 18 two-to four-year-olds visited together to watch the controllers working, something that has rather put me off flying altogether). And after half a lifetime, we got given snack vouchers, which we challenged ourselves to take an hour using.

But while it wasn’t awful, the key thing about the airport that day was that it wasn’t Bremen. So when we got back, we looked up the compensation rules on this kind of thing. It turns out that if the delay is the fault of an airline, the flight was after February 2005, departed from an EU airport, and it arrived at its destination three or more hours late, you may well have a claim – of up to €600.

What counts as an airline’s fault? As far as the airlines are concerned, almost nothing. The compensation rules exclude any “extraordinary circumstances”. That includes bad weather, industrial action, security problems and air traffic control problems. The airlines tend to think that it also includes any technical problems with the plane (our flight was delayed due to a mechanical fault of some kind), but, says Miles Brignall, writing in The Guardian, in fact any “delays for maintenance” should be compensated, and “last October the European Court of Justice ruled that delays caused by events such as lack of flight crew or even technical faults merited compensation”.

So how do you claim? The easiest way to figure this out is to visit www.moneysavingexpert.com, where you can find all the templates you need for both writing your first letter and for following it up when (almost inevitably) your first letter isn’t answered. Otherwise, you can download a letter from Bottonline.co.uk – which automatically inputs the data you need if you put your flight number in – and send that off instead.

I am not entirely convinced that we want to set up a huge claims industry whereby we all demand hundreds of euros for two-hour delays. But if you have been badly – and you suspect unnecessarily – delayed, asking for compensation doesn’t seem unreasonable. After all, if your train is delayed for more than an hour in Britain you automatically get 100% of your money back. Why should airlines not be held to similar standards?