European Court says air passengers can get compensation

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Airlines have been told they cannot avoid paying compensation to passengers if a plane suffers a technical malfunction.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) says airlines should be prepared for some parts to malfunction over time, and a breakdown is not always an excuse to avoid paying compensation.

The ruling follows a challenge by a Dutch passenger, whose transatlantic flight was delayed for 29 hours because some parts on a plane were faulty and had to be replaced.

Corina van der Lans was travelling from Quito in Ecuador to Amsterdam on a flight operated by KLM.

According to KLM, the delay was due to a defective fuel pump and a hydromechanical unit.

The components had to be transported by air from Amsterdam in order to be installed in the aircraft.

KLM also said the defective components had not exceeded their average lifespan, and that their manufacturer had not given specific indications as to which defects might arise if the components reached a certain age.

In its judgment, the court says: "The circumstances surrounding the occurrence of those problems may be classified as 'extraordinary' only if they relate to an event which is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and is beyond the actual control of that carrier on account of its nature or origin".

It concludes that: "the prevention of such a breakdown...is not beyond the actual control of that carrier, since the latter is required to ensure the maintenance and proper functioning of the aircraft it operates for the purposes of its business".

It believes that a technical problem cannot fall within the definition of 'extraordinary circumstances'.

The court says airlines must make all the usual payments to passengers - and if they are left out of pocket, they should sue the supplier of the faulty parts.

Under EU law, air carriers are required to pay compensation between €250 and €600 for a cancelled flight, depending on the distance.

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