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Airlines face millions in compensation payouts after Supreme Court crew illness does not exempt them

Simon Calder’s Travel

UK airlines face paying out millions of pounds after the Supreme Court ruled crew sickness does not exempt them from cancellation compensation claims.

The case in question dates back to January 2018, when Mr and Mrs Lipton were booked to fly on a British Airways CityFlyer flight from Milan Linate airport to London City. The flight was cancelled because the pilot reported that he was unwell shortly before departure.

The Liptons were rebooked onto another flight and arrived at London City airport at just over two-and-a-half hours later than they expected.

They put in a claim for statutory compensation of £220. BA CityFlyer refused to pay. The case has been taken to the highest court in the land for a definitive judgement.

The Supreme Court said in its judgement: “Although the sum at stake is small, the decision has the potential to affect tens of thousands of claims which are made annually under the applicable legislation.

Airlines can reject claims if they can show the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

But the unanimous judgement was that crew sickness does not qualify.

The judges said the purpose of Regulation 261, which governs air passengers’ rights, “is to ensure a high level of protection for consumers”.

The principal question: “Whether the relevant event is inherent in the normal activity of the carrier”.

The Supreme Court said that crew sickness “cannot be categorised as extraordinary”, saying: “That phrase must be given its usual meaning, which denotes something out of the ordinary.

“Staff illness is commonplace for any business. Just as the wear and tear of an aircraft’s physical components is considered an inherent part of an air carrier’s activity, so too is managing illness of staff.

“An event can be external to a carrier but still inherent to its operations. It is irrelevant whether staff fall ill whilst they are off-duty; their attendance or non-attendance for work is an inherent part of the carrier’s operating system.”

Passengers who have had claims rejected in the past six years (in England and Wales; five years in Scotland) can now reapply for compensation.

Coby Benson, solicitor at Bott and Co – which seeks compensation for passengers on a no-win, no-fee basis – said: “This decision is…

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