Airline Wins $8200 Judgments Against Passengers Who Sought Compensation For Flight Delay

EU261 is supposed to provide compensation to passengers for flight cancellations and extreme delays. Instead these passengers delayed by Finnair wound up with a judgment against them after the company they used to pursue their claims went bankrupt and the carrier pursued reimbursement of its legal expenses.

Europe has strong airline consumer protection rules, at least in theory. In practice even when an airline owes you money for a delay, it’s tough to collect. We’ve seen customers literally send bailiffs to airline offices to collect and airlines even cancel flights to avoid having their aircraft impounded over $300.

But I’ve never seen a consumer get stuck by an airline like this – where the airline’s flight is delayed, the customer seeks compensation, and it’s the customers that wind up owing the airline money, in a story first revealed by Australian Frequent Flyer.

oneworld airline Finnair launched its Airbus A350 and had several delays early on as a result of manufacturing defects in the plane. When customers ought compensation for their delays, the airline claimed nothing was owed, because a manufacturing defect isn’t a mere maintenance issue and constitutes “extraordinary circumstances.”

While the Finnish Consumer Disputes Board declared that the airline was liable for compensation, that body lacks enforcement power.

Several customers used a third party service that promises to pursue claims for a piece of what they recover. IfDelayed sued Finnair, and ultimately lost. They were ordered to pay Finnair’s legal expenses, and declared bankruptcy.

Since Finnair couldn’t recover legal expenses from the company that sued them, they went after the passengers for approximately $8200 each, some of whom have paid.

What You’re Entitled To For European Flight Delays

EU regulation 261 (2004) requires airlines to compensate passengers between €250 and €600 cash for flight delays of over 3 hours, for cancellations, and for involuntary denied boardings due to overbooking. The amount depends on the distance of the flight.

This applies to flight departures from EU countries, and it applies to flights headed to the EU on airlines based there. It also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. And it applies to award tickets not just paid tickets.

Compensation even applies to cancellations that happen in advance, not just the day of departure. In fact if the cancellation happens within two weeks of departure an airline has to pay compensation unless they can provide transportation more than two hours earlier that arrives no more than four hours later than originally scheduled. The rules get more stringent within a week of departure.

Handling A Claim Yourself

You can simply write to the airline’s customer service something to the effect of,

I am writing regarding flight NUMBER on [date] from AAAA to BBBB with scheduled departure time of XX:XX. My record locator is ZZZZZZZ and ticket number 0000000000.

This flight arrived TK hours late [or “was cancelled and I arrived on flight ABC at XX:XX on Y date.”] Therefore I am requesting compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004.

The flight was XYZ kilometers therefore I am seeking €[amount].

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to your reply within 14 days.


Selling Your Claim To A Third Party

There are many companies that will take over the hassle of fighting with an airline for compensation. They generally follow a policy of “you don’t pay anything unless they get you money” and then take a portion of what they collect.

Airlines often stonewall and count on consumers giving up in order to save themselves money, although if you’re persistent enough they’ll often pay out. In outsourcing your claim you’re paying someone on a contingency fee basis to be persistent on your behalf, and avoid the hassle yourself.

However the Finnair case is a cautionary tale where you authorize a lawsuit on your behalf. According to the airline, in a statement provided to Australian Frequent Flyer,

Finnair complies with the EU 261 obligation and pays compensation accordingly. In some cases, when we don’t believe compensation is payable, we choose to defend our position as EU compensation-related costs form a considerable cost item for airlines. While we understand that the legal costs may have come as a surprise and caused a burden to individuals, Finnair’s stance, in this case, was confirmed by the court ruling and we have then exercised our right to recover the cost from IfDelayed’s clients.

Flight delays are always unfortunate and sometimes the reasons behind them are beyond our control like in this case. In every case, our first priority is to make sure our customers reach their destination as soon as possible. We always recommend contacting us directly to ensure open and transparent communication about the merits of the case before commencing legal actions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My wife and I got bumped flying from Munich to Bilbao on Lufthansa a couple years ago. Got put on the next flight 4 hours later with 250 euros each in our pockets. I asked if we also could get lounge passes while we wait 4 hours, they said no, but they upgraded us to business class which comes with lounge access. Enjoyed the beer in the lounge and still made our dinner reservations at a one Michelin star restaurant. The compensation covered the meal and our first hotel night.
    Best day ever!

  2. “We always recommend contacting us directly to ensure open and transparent communication about the merits of the case before commencing legal actions.”

    – Yeah, we think you have a good case here, you should sue us. Lol!

  3. Anyone that paid is a fool – go to the media, no way the negative publicity is worth it for AY.

  4. That’s the issue with corporations. Ifdelayed gets out of all liability and continues to operate. Unfortunately people don’t get to do that unless they are rich enough.
    And also unfortunately these people who were sued by Finnair don’t stand up themselves and say this is ridiculous, Ifdelayed is on the hook for the fees, period. Not me.

  5. I’m one of the customers impacted in the events of this article.
    After my delayed flight, I asked Finnair directly for compensation , a number of times. They declined, a number of times.
    Eventually they told me “If you are not satisfied with our decision regarding the compensation, you may contact the Consumer Authority”.
    Of course I did, and the authority agreed with me, against Finnair.
    Finnair just ignored it.
    Finnair’s suggestion above meant (naively for sure) to me that they would respect the arbitration that THEY proposed. So when they did not, litigation seemed reasonable.
    For Finnair to say now “We always recommend contacting us directly to ensure open and transparent communication about the merits of the case before commencing legal actions” is disingenuous and an attempt at damage control.
    Unfortunately living in Finland, and under a court order, I had to pay – collection actions are quick and ruthless here.
    But frankly, I am more annoyed with Ifdelayed, who continue to promote a safe and reliable service, which, to my financial detriment, it clearly is not.
    “Choosing” not to pay their liability, they were asset stripped and relaunched with same website and everything. This after an agreement between me and them stating “Under no circumstances will you be liable to pay any costs or other penalties if we do not win your case.”
    It’s a ridiculous situation – which while legal, is clearly not ethical (IMO).

  6. My flight from Munich to the US on United was canceled a few years ago. They proactively sent email offering passengers $300, even though they owed closer to $700. They basically relied on customer’s ignorance of 261 to cheat customers out of what they owed. After an email similar the one mentioned in this article, I ended up with $900 in United credit, which was A-ok with me.

  7. @nicnet. So sorry for your predicament but you raise an interesting issue when you say that what Finnair did maybe legal but not ethical. You may well be right, but you also must examine EU261, which also is clearly legal, but not necessarily ethical. It sets out a fixed tariff of damages in a fixed set of circumstances, by legal prescription but without regard to ethics. In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that airlines act by the strict legal definition, rather than ethical considerations. And, you are right to point the finger at the shyster lawyers.

    As can be seen from @Rico’s comments above, the compensation payments can sometimes be way too generous – in circumstances where the airline is legally bound to pay, but you could argue that the passenger ethically should decline.

  8. EU261 is always a trap. Having flying my whole life between US & EU, there have been some circumstances in which I did pursue the 261 compensation and some cases in which I decided to pass on.
    The key is to know what exactly happened so you know if it is within the EU261 boundaries or not.
    And unfortunately, usually, airlines are vague when it comes to explaining the real reason for the delay.
    Also, sometimes you have a combination of factors like the weather then pilot time out. If one of the factors is outside of EU261 then you are out of luck.
    I usually prefer to negotiate with customer services (even better if you are FF elite) to receive something outside of EU261 like miles, e-certificates, upgrades, … that airlines can do for little costs to no costs to them.
    I hate going to court. lawyers are the ONLY winners in court, everybody else ends up being a loser.

    Lastly, for those that don’t know, in the EU, judgments are enforced by government officers, so unlike in the US when even with a judgment against you, you can still negotiate or dispute further, in the EU when you have a judgment against you, you have to pay right away or face government officers seize your assets.

  9. @nicnet

    Please don’t think this is all in vain. This is bad publicity for Finnair. Finnair has never been on my radar and now never will be. I have a sh!tllist for airlines. Finnair joins Spirit on that list!

    Sadly for you, living in Finland, Finnair had easy legal avenues. For Americans, Finnair would have a more difficult time. Many judges would not decide for Finnair in a case like this.

  10. Thanks Gary, I have added FINNAIR to the list of airlines I will certainly avoid.

    FINNAIR is clearly not customer centric and holds little regard for its reputation.

  11. This post and these comments, especially @nicnet’s horrible experience, persuade me to steer clear of FINNAIR.I just hope this horrible airline doesn’t sue @nicnet for commenting here.

  12. >>just hope this horrible airline doesn’t sue @nicnet for commenting here.

    Sue for what? All I’ve done is tell the tale on what happened to me. Nothing hidden, no lies, just my story.
    And as I also said above, I’m more annoyed with Ifdelayed than Finnair. Ifdelayed continue to promote their services, just like before, even though the brand name has avoided these litigation fees and dumped them on their customers – in this case, me.

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