European judges have ruled that airlines must compensate passengers for long flight delays caused by staff staging sudden 'wildcat' strikes.

The European Court of Justice said such strikes should not be classed as extraordinary circumstances and used as an excuse by airlines to avoid paying passengers compensation due under regulation EU261.

The ruling in Luxembourg, which will apply throughout the EU, including the UK, could lead to airlines paying out tens of millions more compensation a year to delayed passengers.

Judges at the Court of Justice had been asked to rule whether German airline TUIFly was right to deny passengers compensation for a number of delays caused in October 2016 as a result of flight crew suddenly placing themselves on sick leave for a week as a result of a company restructure.

Between October 1 and 10, the percentage of TUIfly crew reporting sick rose from 10% to 89% for cockpit crew and up to 62% for cabin crew.

The case was taken to German courts in Hanover and Dusseldorf, which asked the Court of Justice to determine whether, for the purposes of Regulation 261/2004, the spontaneous absence of a significant part of the flight staff in the form of a 'wildcat strike', fell within the concept of 'extraordinary circumstances'.

"This victory for passengers opens the door for millions of pounds in compensation each year to be paid to UK passengers alone, many of whose compensation claims have been previously denied by airlines on the grounds of extraordinary circumstances," said flight delay compensation firm Bott & Co.

It claimed that a 16-day strike by British Airways' cabin crew last July, which was then extended to a further two weeks in August, which affected over 60,000 passengers could cost the airline £25 million in compensation.

Coby Benson, a solicitor at Bott and Co, said: "Airlines have argued for a long time that staff strikes are an extraordinary circumstance. This judgment from the European Court is the latest in a long line of cases that confirms airlines are often obliged to provide monetary compensation of up to £530 to passengers who find their travel plans severely disrupted at the last minute."

Courtesy of Travelmole