This term is in a clause that is a defence for airlines and other service providers to use to avoid paying compensation when there is a cancelation in the service. Often when aircraft are delayed for a long time the airlines will try to avoid having to pay for it using this defence.
Extraordinary circumstance is when an unexpected event happens that delays / stops a service that could not have been prevented if reasonable measures had been taken.
“Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.”1
Here, is where the issue become complicated. This generally only applies to when the flight is cancelled. If the flight has been delayed for a long time when do does it become a cancelled flight. The problem can be compared to the story of the ‘Grandfather’s Axe’. The story talks about a tool that is referred to as grandfather’s axe. It has been passed down the generations. However, the axe has had a number of handle changes and a number of head changes. This means there is not an original part left, yet it is still called the grandfather’s axe. Comparing this to flights it would be the same as the airline delaying the flight until it becomes a different flight number and different departure points and even different routes. Is it still the same flight? When this doesn’t happen the airline will claim that the flight was cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’2.
The passengers are often left confused or out of the loop so that the airline can get away without having to pay for compensation. It may also be noted that some airlines will stretch the Extraordinary Circumstance as far as they can in order to get out of paying out3.
There is now a solution that will mean the airlines will find it more difficult to run the passengers round in circles if the passenger takes a bit of time to argue their point and are also clear on their rights. In the EU there are new regulations that mean that the extraordinary circumstance has to be proved by the airline before it can sit. Therefore, if the airline tries to claim that, the passenger can ask for the proof.
It is important that all passengers are aware of what is going on. By taking the time to research and be prepared, it will mean that the passengers are less likely to be taken for a ride. By understanding your rights as a passenger your trip can go much smoother.