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Airline Compensation Claim Denied? Here's What You Can Do


If your flight has been delayed or cancelled, why was your compensation claim denied? You might already know that legislation in the EU, UK or Canada entitles you to compensation for delays that are the airline’s fault. These laws are meant to protect you from administrative errors airlines make that cost passengers time and money.

But often, unexpected circumstances outside of an airline’s control make them exempt from paying out compensation – for example, if the delay was caused by a third party or force of nature.

Your flight delay might not be eligible for compensation if it was:

  • due to weather conditions
  • because of manufacturing/factory defects due to airport/runway limitations
  • due to an extraordinary circumstance
  • for safety related issues

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when an airline is at fault for a delay – when they overbook, for example, or when there’s an administrative error they tell you about. But chances are, they will avoid responsibility for paying passengers when they can, which makes it tricky to determine when you’re actually eligible for compensation.

Below, we’ll explore some of the reasons for airline delays in detail for a clearer picture of when an airline should pay you (and when they don’t have to).

Weather and safety issues

Flights often get delayed as a result of weather restrictions, due to weather conditions beyond operational limits. This is a safety issue rather than the fault of the airline – which means if your flight is delayed due to the weather, you may not be eligible for compensation.

This might look like strong wind at London Heathrow, freezing fog resulting in reduced capacity in Amsterdam, or heavy snow in Poland. Even when adverse weather is common in the country you’re flying from, there may still be severe weather conditions that ground your flight.

However, there are a few weather-related safety concerns that pose grey areas for compensating passengers:

De-icing: Airlines have to take precautions to de-ice planes, which might delay your flight. However, if the airline doesn’t have enough de-icing fluid and the delay is caused by the airline’s attempt to source more, then they are at fault for the delay and must compensate you.

Lightning strike: Lighting strikes may sound fairly serious, but large air carriers are actually struck by lightning every day! While lightning strikes don’t usually pose a problem, they can occasionally cause operational issues that create delays. When those delays happen, you won’t be entitled to compensation.

Thunderstorm: Extreme weather like thunderstorms and other storms can cause severe enough weather conditions that make flying seem dangerous from the ground. While most commercial airlines can technically fly through them, it’s usually safer to opt not to if the thunderstorm is at the airport.

It’s also worth noting that many airlines will claim that an administrative delay was actually due to inclement weather to avoid paying out claims – but since the pilot is the ultimate arbiter of whether or not it’s safe to fly, it’s difficult to contest these claims.

Unexpected circumstances and technical challenges

Unexpected circumstances and technical challenges can also cause delays outside of an airline’s control, in which case the airline isn’t responsible for compensating you. In general, routine maintenance is the airline’s responsibility, but there’s a lot of other moving parts at an airport that could cause delays.

Here are some of the potential unexpected circumstances and technical challenges airlines run into that delay their flights:

Air Traffic Control (ATC) restrictions aren’t as common as airline-caused delays, but they do happen. Any delay caused by air traffic control is deemed to be an event outside of control of the airline.

For example, air traffic controllers' slot restrictions dictate how many planes can take off and land in a given period at some airport runways with high traffic. High demand or capacity constraints might delay your flight at the airport of departure, which is an unexpected circumstance for the airline and therefore one they don’t have to compensate you for.

Rotational delays are a similar related issue – one flight which has been delayed can cause many other flights to be held up, but there’s nothing the airline itself can do to prevent these types of delays. Again, they’re not obligated to compensate you for these delays caused by other airlines.

Operational reasons beyond the control of the airline can also be a factor, such as a manufacturing defect in the aircraft itself.

However, technical reasons like engine failures or a window break is the airline’s fault, especially if the technical issue was something the airline can prevent by routine maintenance.

Aircraft fuel supply (AFS) can also hold airplanes up if there’s a malfunctioning fuel system at the airport. Just like a gas station pump can be out of order, sometimes aircraft fuel supply at airports can stop working – which isn’t the airline’s fault.

Human factors and legal considerations

Along with all the reasons why a flight might get delayed comes the human element. There are a lot of staff in the airport that the airline depends on to keep your flight on time, and staffing at airports can be unpredictable.

Generally, you’ll be able to get compensated if your flight delay was due to an airline staffing shortage, with a few notable exceptions. However, they won’t be at fault for staffing issues at the airport. For example:

Industrial disputes such as the recent air traffic control strike in France aren’t generally covered. Industrial strikes/labor action at the airport is considered outside of the airline’s control unless it’s a crew strike or pilot strike under EU law. The industrial action outside of an airline in Italy is another example of a type of dispute that wouldn’t be covered under most laws.

With airline strikes, whether or not you are eligible for compensation depends on the law you’re covered under. For example, EU law protects passengers in the event of airline staff strikes, while Canadian law does not.

Crew illness is generally considered the airline’s responsibility. If your flight is delayed because a crew member (or even the pilot) calls in sick, you’re eligible for compensation. That’s because the airline should have enough staff to cover for sudden illness.

Non-controllable operational issues might also extend to things like civil unrest, bankruptcy, third party rule, or lack of authorization in accordance with laws that the airline doesn’t have control over. In these cases, the airline won’t have to compensate you for flight delays.

Extraordinary circumstances and security issues

There are a lot of random things that happen in the air and on the ground in airports that might delay your flight but aren’t necessarily the airline’s fault. If an airline denies your claim for a reason like “extraordinary circumstance,” “reasons beyond our control,” or “mandatory security,” they might mean one of the followings. However, the airline must clearly state what the extraordinary circumstance is.

The flight was canceled due to an ad-hoc closure at the airport. This might be due to anything from a medical emergency to a drone sighting that threatened the safety and security of the airport.

For example, many flights were canceled during the Covid-19 pandemic, but those cancellations wouldn’t be considered the airline’s fault. Rather, the pandemic produced a lot of ad-hoc closures as airports shut down out of necessity.

Threats to the safety and security of the aircraft itself are another reason for emergency delays or cancellations. These situations are rare, but they could be anything from a bird strike to a terrorist attack or sabotage that necessitates an emergency landing or flight diversion due to an emergency issue.

Political unrest can also fall under extraordinary circumstances, such as flights that have been canceled due to the war situation in Israel, or the political situation in another country. Capacity restrictions imposed by the local government can also fall under this category, along with any other type of political unrest that prevents an aircraft from flying.

Regulatory aspects and passengers’ rights

Aside from everything that can happen at the airport, there may be a few regulatory issues that can affect your passengers’ rights:

First and last destinations

Where you take off from and where you land will determine what rights you’re entitled to. Flights leaving from EU or UK airports are covered under Regulation 261/2004 and Regulation UK-261, which is an EU/UK law that entitles passengers to compensation if flights are delayed or cancelled. If your flight is entering the EU or UK, you’re only covered if you’re flying on an EU or UK airline.

If your first and last destinations are outside of the EU (such as a flight from Melbourne to LA), you’re not covered under EU/UK law. You may be covered under Brazilian law if you’re flying from Rio, or Canadian law if you’re flying to or from anywhere from Canada. In general, knowing which jurisdiction your passengers’ rights fall under is the first step to a successful claim.

Who the operating airline is

Your compensation might also depend on who the operating airline is. Some airlines sell tickets on other airlines under a codeshare agreement, especially if there’s a stopover – meaning both legs of your flight will have the same flight code, but the code will be shared by two separate airlines.

The operating airline is the airline operating your flight, and they are always the one responsible for compensating you for a delay. For example, if you booked a ticket on Air France but the last leg of your journey was with Air Canada, Air Canada would be responsible for delays that they created.

The date they informed you of the delay or cancellation

Airlines have up to two weeks before the departure date to inform you of any delays or cancellations they know about in advance – and they won’t owe you compensation if they give you more than two weeks’ notice.

However, you’re still owed a refund (or alternate travel arrangements) if your flight was cancelled, even if it was cancelled more than two weeks in advance. Cancellations less than two weeks in advance will make the airline liable for additional compensation payouts above and beyond the refund.

How long it’s been since your flight

Under EU law, you have up to five years to claim a refund for a delayed or canceled flight. It changes according to the jurisdiction of the country in Europe. (i.e. 5 years in Spain, 3 years in Germany, 2 years in Italy). The longest time limit is in the UK, which is 6 years. In Canada it’s only one year, but Brazilian law may let you make a claim for up to five years on domestic flights. You can check countries’ time limitation for flight delay or cancellation compensation here.

If it’s been a while since you booked a flight that you want to claim compensation for, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later – since missing the statutory period for filing a claim might mean your claim has expired.

Whether or not you showed up on time

If you’re late showing up at the gates for your flight, you won’t be eligible for compensation. That’s true even if the airport was crowded, or if there was a lot of traffic that prevented you from finding parking soon enough. Ultimately, whether or not you show up on time is outside of the airline’s control, so they’re not required to compensate you if you were late.

How long the delay is

If your delay is less than 3 hours, you won’t be entitled to monetary compensation – but you may still be entitled to food and refreshments, particularly if it was at a mealtime. Airlines usually hand out food to meet their legal requirements, but if they don’t, you can save your receipts if you need to buy food during a delay.

Should you fight a denied claim?

Whether or not it’s worth it to fight a denied claim depends on the circumstances surrounding it. Many passengers struggle to understand their rights and don’t know when they should fight to win their claim and when they don’t have a case. If the plane is overbooked and you are denied boarding involuntarily, it means that you have the right to claim compensation. Besides, the airline has to offer you an alternative flight or has to refund you in full if you choose not to fly.

Thankfully, it’s easy with Click2Refund. We’re your partner for airline compensation claims – and we can tell you whether or not you have a valid case. If you do, our no-win, no-fee policy ensures that you’re not charged unless we’re able to win the claim on your behalf.

If you don’t have an eligible claim due to one of the reasons above, we’ll let you know that, too.

Check your claim with us today to get started!

Written by: Click2Refund