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European court rules in Alitalia case
Airlines can no longer avoid paying compensation for delayed or cancelled flights by blaming technical problems, ruled judges in Europe.
The decision by the European Court of Justice yesterday (December 22) closes a legal loophole, potentially costing airlines millions in compensation claims.
Before the ruling, passengers could not claim for flights delayed or cancelled due to "extreme circumstances." The loophole allowed technical faults to fall under this exemption.
However judges ruled that faults "which come to light during maintenance of aircraft or on account of failure to carry out such maintenance do not constitute, in themselves, ‘extraordinary circumstances'."
Problems arising from lack of maintenance should be regarded as "inherent in the normal exercise of an air carrier's activity," the court said in a statement.
The ruling comes as the result of legal action brought against Alitalia after its "refusal" to pay an Austrian family compensation for a last minute cancellation.
Friederike Wallentin-Hermann launched a civil case against the Italian carrier after it cancelled her family's flight from Vienna to Brindisi five minutes prior to departure.
Alitalia lodged an appeal against the ruling by the Austrian court, refusing to pay compensation of €250 and €10 for telephone charges, prompting the decision from Europe.
The court said technical faults may still be deemed "exceptional" when beyond an airline's control such as "hidden" manufacturing defects and acts of sabotage and terrorism.