Following the emergency landing of one of its aircraft at Heathrow, and the subsequent preliminary findings of the Air Accident Investigation Board, British Airways is facing a potential compensation bill running into many millions of pounds.

British Airways 777 taxiing at HeathrowThe airline had initially claimed that the incident should be deemed an “extraordinary circumstance” and that, under EU Regulation 261 which governs such incidents, the airline was therefore not liable for compensation. That however was in the immediate aftermath of BA 762′s dramatic return to Heathrow and before anyone knew the reason for the emergency.

Subsequently, when it became clear that the problem was down to human error, namely the failure to properly secure the cowls which protect the plane’s engines, British Airways suddenly went very quiet. The airline have remained largely silent ever since and are unlikely to make any further official decisions until the full report comes out later this year.

Without wishing to pre-judge that report, if, as likely, human error is confirmed as the reason for the emergency then British Airways is set to face a flurry of compensation claims. The airline will no doubt hope, and argue, that any compensation it is forced to pay out will only apply to those passengers who were on the affected flight. However, as a consequence of the emergency landing, one of Heathrow’s two runways was forced to close and this resulted in some 193 flights being cancelled. While some passengers were able to catch flights later the same day, others had to overnight in nearby hotels. Will the airline refund their direct costs as well as providing compensation for inconvenience?

Worse still, other passengers had their flights cancelled and were unable to re-book at all. As an example, and as noted at the time, my niece and nephews (ages 11-15) were meant to fly out to their parents in Amsterdam that day with British Airways but were unable to do so as their flight was cancelled and later potential flights were booked up for several days ahead. In the end, the only solution was for their mother to drive from Holland to the UK, pick them up, and head straight back. Will British Airways refund them not just for their unused flights but also fuel, return Eurotunnel bookings and the inconvenience?

British Airways Terminal 5 Check-In





Subject to approval by member states and the European Parliament, new regulations are set to be introduced in 2015 that, depending on your point of view, will either provide additional protection to passengers mistreated by airlines or further burden an historically loss-making industry with yet more onerous and unfair rules and regulations.

British Airways A321

Under EU261, British Airways and other airlines are already required by law to refund passengers when their flights are cancelled; however, many travellers have complained that airlines have simply ignored this regulation or used a litany of excuses to avoid paying up. Some of the key features of the new regulations are as follows: airlines will no longer be able to cite ‘mechanical problems’ as a reason for denying compensation; airlines will have to provide an explanaton for flight cancellations within 30 minutes of its scheduled departure; where passengers have already boarded an aircraft and the flight is delayed for more than hour, the airline will be obliged to provide water as well as air conditioning / heating as appropriate; perhaps the most welcome regulation however is one that obliges airlines to acknowledge complaints within a week of receipt and to reply in full within 2 months - heaven knows how Ryanair will deal with that.

It’s not all bad news for the airline industry however. Airlines such as British Airways will quite rightly no longer have to pay compensation for delays or cancellations where caused by severe weather (definition?) or strikes; nor will airlines have to pay compensation for delayed flights until that delay reaches 5hrs, 2hrs more than the current limit; finally, in extreme circumstances (such as the Icelandic volcano of 2010 which cost the airline industry over £1 billion), airlines will only have to pay up to a maximum of 3 nights hotel for accommodation for stranded passengers.

Author Note: Having been stranded at Cancun airport in November 2010 after snow closed Gatwick, I can testify that British Airways handled the situation very well, providing and arranging (good quality) accommodation nearby as well as arranging new flights the following day. From experience, I can say that other European carriers would not have handled the situation anything like as well.