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The domino effect: when will an airline be liable to pay compensation under EU261 due to rotational delays?

The domino effect of rotational delays was the single biggest cause of delay across EU airports in 2018, impacting 43% of delayed flights in the EU. How far down can an airline rely on a domino effect to employ the “Extraordinary Circumstances” exemption to liability under European Regulation 261/2004 (“EU261”)?

The answer:

Not far. An airline cannot rely on issues arising on a previous rotation, (even if these were would qualify as an Extraordinary Circumstance) to exempt compensation for a flight otherwise unaffected.

The airline is responsible for ensuring that an aircraft is ready and operational to perform the flight.

What are Rotational Delays?

The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) describes rotational delays as arising: ‘ a result of an aircraft’s late arrival from a previous flight which in turn affects the punctuality of its next flight with the same aircraft, as well as potentially delaying connecting passengers.’

What this feels like for you is: you arrived at the airport on time. You have gone through security, customs and are ready to board. And now… you wait ... and wait. All to be told that your flight has been delayed or worse - that it has been cancelled. Sound familiar?

Has this happened to you?

To complicate matters, airlines often give vague explanations for delays: “operational issues”, “bad weather” or “staff working overtime”. These reasons, although may be true, are generally not valid to exempt compensation unless those reasons applied directly to your flight.


If your flight from Chicago was grounded due to a snow storm, this will be deemed an Extraordinary Circumstance and you will not be eligible for compensation. By contrast, if you were in Miami and delayed because of the snowstorm in Chicago the day before, this will not hold as an ongoing Extraordinary Circumstance and you will be eligible for compensation.

What are delays caused by?

Causes are varied and often a consequence of airlines and airports trying to maximise efficiency. They include:

  • Air carrier awaiting a load from another flight,
  • Check in delays with passengers and luggage,
  • Late arrival of aircraft from a previous flight,
  • Awaiting cabin crew, flight crew and pilot from a previous flight,
  • Airplane rerouted or diverted due to weather or other reasons,
  • Replacement of aircraft, or maintenance issues

P.S Don’t forget that the airline must offer you “reasonable care” during your wait. See here.

Rotational delays may have impacted your journey, with your airline giving vague information as to why. Get in touch now to assess your eligibility!

30 April 2019

Written by Frédéric PELOUZE, Weclaim Founder & Director

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