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Exemptions of liability: in which cases are airlines not obliged to compensate you?

If the cancellation or delay of your flight is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided by reasonable measures, the airline is not obliged to pay you compensation.

What are the most common circumstances used by airlines in order to justify cancellations or delays?

  • Internal strike: this circumstance does not constitute an exemption of liability. Indeed, if employees of an airline are on strike, the company is still obliged to pay compensation to its passengers;
  • External strike such as an air traffic controllers' strike: this is an extraordinary circumstance for airlines. They don't have to pay compensation to passengers;
  • Bad weather conditions: only extreme weather conditions constitute an extraordinary circumstances (snow storm, extreme wind, volcanic eruption);
  • Technical issue: it is not an extraordinary circumstance, except on rare occasion.


Mrs Van Der Lans was travelling from Quito (Ecuador) to Amsterdam. The flight was delayed and took off 29 hours later than the original departure. The delay was caused by a technical issue: one of the engines was not starting. According to the airline, two pieces were defective: the fuel pump and the hydromechanical transmission. Those pieces were not available in Ecuador and had to be conveyed from Amsterdam.

Mrs Van Der Lans seized the competent court in Amsterdam in order to get 600 euros in compensation. The airline refused to pay arguing that the technical issue constituted an extraordinary circumstance.

The judge decided that such an event in the flight industry was an inherent risk and therefore not an extraordinary circumstance.

As a result, Mrs Van Der Lans received compensation.

Who has to show that circumstances are extraordinary?

The burden of proof rests on the airline: the airline must demonstrate that the cancellation or the delay of your flight was caused by an extraordinary circumstance (Article 4 European Regulation 261/2004). Therefore, the airline must detail the reasons why your flight was cancelled or delayed.

Usually, airlines send an email to inform passengers about the delay and cancellation. Unfortunately, the airline rarely details the exact reasons why the cancellation or the delay occurred. In case you have no information, we are here to contact the airline and ask the reason why your flight was cancelled or delayed.

Contact us today to see if we can help.

Written by Frédéric Pelouze, founder and CEO.

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