Dr Martin Longden, a father-of-three, has won £3,278 compensation after representing himself in court against airline company Monarch after his family endured a 24-hour flight delay in Egypt.
The airline didn’t even show up for the final hearing, thinking their excuse that a cracked windscreen on the outbound flight was enough to justify a 24 hour delay to its flight from the resort of Sharm El Sheikh to Gatwick on April 8, 2012. The judge at Winchester County Court disagreed, ruling that the airline could not claim the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and awarded the Longden family compensation of £2,475, interest of £368 and costs of £435 last Tuesday, February 18.
Dr Longden, a civil servant, said: ‘After the problem became apparent, Monarch quickly decided we would be left in Egypt for over 24 hours. After many hours of chaos at the airport, we were finally bussed to a hotel and given a room with one double bed for our family of five. It was a very uncomfortable night. The airline said they did everything to get us home more quickly – but all the evidence suggested they did not. Monarch may fly sky-high, but they’re not above the law. And I’m pleased the Judge brought them down to earth with a bump.’
According to EU law, airline customers are entitled to compensation of up to £490 for flights delayed for longer than three hours. Mr Longden, of Winchester, applied for compensation for himself, his wife Naomi and his three children, and took it to court after their initial claim was denied by Monarch.
Airlines can deny compensation if the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, such as extreme weather, industrial action, or civil unrest. One of the most contentious extraordinary circumstances debated under the EU law EC/261 is delays caused by technical faults that occur outside of an airline’s maintenance programme shortly before the flight is due to depart.
Airlines will typically deny claims for this reason as a matter of course, but if it comes to court then it will be down to the interpretation of judges. As aircraft experience extreme atmospheric pressure every day – which can cause cracked windscreens – it was argued by Mr Longden that this is a problem that an airline can reasonably be expected to deal with on an occasional, if not regular, basis.
In any case, airlines must show they made all attempts to minimise the delay, something that Monarch could not back up in court after Mr Longden’s cross-examinination. The delay occurred when a fault was discovered on the plane scheduled to fly from Gatwick to Egypt to pick up Dr Longden and his fellow passengers. Evidence submitted by Monarch showed that it was four hours before a replacement windscreen had had even arrived at Gatwick from Luton on April 8, by which time the decision had already been taken to keep passengers overnight in Egypt, and Monarch could provide little evidence it had attempted to get another airline to fly passengers home.
It later emerged that extra sealant was required for the repairs, but this was not discovered until 14 hours after the fault was discovered.
Mr Longden also argued that as Gatwick is a major hub for Monarch, then it should have had procedures in place to deal with such faults faster. In response to the case, Monarch said that it didn’t attend court for the third and final hearing because they were confident they would win.
In accordance with safety guidelines, this required the aircraft to return to stand and an investigation be conducted; the aircraft was deemed unserviceable and unable to operate. The repair necessary to return the aircraft to service was carried out as expeditiously as possible and the aircraft returned to service at 0530 on 9th April 2012.