Extraordinary circumstances

The EU law on flight compensation uses the term 'extraordinary circumstances' to refer to situations where delays or cancellations have been caused by things that are not the responsibility of the airline.  If extraordinary circumstances apply, you are not entitled to compensation.

The Regulation does not define “extraordinary circumstances” and there have been a number of cases in the European and English courts regarding what the term covers.  The cases have centred on whether technical faults on an aircraft could be an extraordinary circumstance.

In September 2015 the European Court looked at the same issue in the case of KLM v van der Lans.  The court found that technical problems were not extraordinary and neither was the early failure of an aircraft component.  The ruling noted two types of technical fault that may be extraordinary, a hidden manufacturing defect and damage to an aircraft caused by sabotage or terrorism. 

Examples of extraordinary circumstances

The main categories of events that are likely to be an extraordinary circumstance include:

  • Acts of terrorism or sabotage
  • Political or civil unrest
  • Security risks
  • Strikes (unrelated to the airline such as, airport staff, ground handlers, or air traffic control)
  • Weather conditions incompatible with the safe operation of the flight
  • Hidden manufacturing defects (a manufacturer recall that grounds a fleet of aircraft)

If you are not sure whether extraordinary circumstances apply to your flight, but have read about your other rights and think you might have a case, you can make a claim to your airline for compensation. The airline should explain to you the reason for the disruption. If they consider it was due to extraordinary circumstances they will need to clearly set out why. If they reject your claim then you can consider whether to pursue it further.

Rights of air passengers during strikes

The effects of a strike on air traffic causes many passengers to not reach their destination on time or even at all. Rights of air passengers are covered in regulation (EC) no. 261/2004, establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, which  was introduced into Icelandic law by regulation no. 1048/2012. The Icelandic Transport Authority enforces the regulation. When articles and items are referred to in this coverage, the references are to regulation no. 261/2004.

The situation which passengers encounter is either that their flight is cancelled or that it is delayed because of a strike. This is covered in Articles 5 and 6 of the regulation. Passenger rights in these instances are covered in further detail in Articles 8 and 9 of the regulation. Article 8 states that in these situations, passengers shall have a right to reimbursement or to have their flight re-routed. Article 9 specifies the services which passengers have a right to in these instances. The services are the following:

  • Passengers shall be offered the following free of charge:

a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time,
b) hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary or where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary;
c) transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other)

  • In addition, passengers shall be offered free of charge two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails.
  • In applying this Article, the operating air carrier shall pay particular attention to the needs of persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them, as well as to the needs of unaccompanied children.
  • When a flight is cancelled or delayed, the air operator or carrier is obligated to provide passengers with written information on their rights according to regulation no. 261/2004.

The above-mentioned rights and obligations apply even if a flight is delayed or cancelled due to a strike.

In the event of a strike, right to compensation is in some cases voided, always in the event of a strike by a third party, that is, not employees of the air operator. But in the event of a strike by employees of the air operator, strikes are generally not classified as force majeure. Furthermore, those passengers whose flight is delayed for longer than three hours due to the effects of the strike, potentially have a right to compensation.

Thus, those passengers do not have a right to compensation who had a flight booked with departure during the strike. On the other hand, those passengers who have a flight booked later in the day that is delayed due to the effects of the strike, potentially have a right to compensation.

In those instances when passengers must incur costs due to the points specified above, they must hold on to receipts and then apply for reimbursement from the pertinent air operator.

Natural Disaster

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are among natural disasters that can affect flights.

Passenger rights are based on whether the flight is governed by  EC regulation no. 261/2004 which was introduced into Icelandic law by regulation no. 1048/2012.

1. Complaints governed by regulation 261/2004

How do you know whether your flight is governed by the regulation?

Your flight is governed by the regulation if it:

  • is entirely within the EEA or Switzerland (see enclosed list)
  • departs from an aerodrome within the EEA or Switzerland
  • is arriving at an aerodrome within the EEA or Switzerland from a country outside those states with an air operator from the EEA or Switzerland.

If your flight falls under item one or two, the origin of the air operator does not matter.

If your flight is governed by the regulation, then what is your right?

If your complaint falls under one of the above-mentioned three categories, then you have a right to reimbursement for your ticket or a choice of another flight, and a right to services while you wait for a new flight.

Reimbursement for ticket or another flight

The regulation states that when a flight is cancelled you have a right to choose between:

  • reimbursement for ticket or
  • another flight “at the earliest opportunity”
  • another flight “at a later date at the passenger's convenience, subject to availability of seats”

If you choose to have your ticket reimbursed as soon as the first information on the cancellation is presented, then you do not have a right to further assistance from the air operator.

If you choose another flight at the earliest opportunity, you have a right to meals, refreshments, and hotel accommodation while you wait for the flight. This though does not apply if you are beginning your trip and have the option of waiting at home.

If you choose another flight at a later date (for example, because you have decided to cancel the trip at this point), then there are no time limits in the regulation on when you need to get on this flight. No extra cost should be incurred by passengers when this option is chosen.

If you do not want to wait for the flight, then you have no automatic right to travel by other means at the cost of the air operator. Some air operators look into what possibilities there are for getting passengers to their destination by other means, such as by car, ship, or train. But if you have made your own arrangements without prior approval from the air operator, then it is likely that the air operator will not want to participate in paying the extra cost added to other cost resulting from the cancellation of the flight. Still, there is no harm in trying to get the air operator to meet you half way in such an instance on the basis of goodwill.

Right to services (meals, refreshments, accommodation, phone calls)

EC regulation no. 261/2004 obligates air operators to offer you meals, refreshments, and accommodation, as appropriate, while you wait for a new flight. They are also obligated to pay all expenses for travel between the accommodation and the aerodrome. There are no limits, regarding currencies or time, to the supply of these services .

In addition, air operators shall offer you free of charge: two phone calls, fax messages, telex messages, or e-mails.

If these services have not been offered by the air operator and you have had to pay for them yourself, then the air operator is obligated to reimburse you for that cost. You should follow the instructions which the air operator has set forth concerning how to be reimbursed. It is possible that you will not get all costs reimbursed if the air operator considers them excessive.

2. Other complaints (which regulation no. 261/2004 does not cover)

If your flight is not governed by this regulation, then you should read the terms and conditions on the home page of the air operator. The terms and conditions should at least specify an offer for reimbursement or different transport. Other transport should take place within reasonable time limits. There should be no additional fee related to this.

It is doubtful that the terms and conditions allow for services, such as meals and accommodation. Still, that does not mean that you can not ask the air operator to participate in paying the cost you have incurred. If they refuse, then it is doubtful that the Icelandic Transport Authority (ICETRA) can get them to change their mind. 

Method for submitting complaints

Step 1

If you wish to be reimbursed for costs that you incurred while waiting for a new flight, then you should follow the instructions which the air operator publishes, for example, on its home page. If no instructions are given, then you should write the air operator and send them the original receipts with a request for reimbursement. It is necessary to make photocopies of the receipts for good measure.

If you have any comments concerning the performance of the air operator in handling the circumstances in question, then you should also communicate them directly to the air operator.

You may have to show persistence. Be prepared to write the air operator two or three times if you are not satisfied with the replies you receive.

Step 2

If your communication with the air operator does not lead to the result you hoped for, it is possible that ICETRA can assist you. If you decide to seek our assistance, then you need to send a copy of all communication you have had with the air operator, including their replies to your letters or e-mails. It is best to do everything possible in communicating with the air operator before getting ICETRA involved.

As an alternate course of action, you can call ICETRA at 480 6000 or send an e-mail to consumers@icetra.is  if you need instructions concerning replies from the air operator.

Persons with disabilities and reduced mobility

If you are a passenger with disabilities or reduced mobility, then it is possible that your complaints fall under two different EC regulations on passenger rights.

They are:

  • Regulation EC no. 261/2004 which establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights
  • Regulation EC no. 1107/2006 on protection for and assistance to disabled passengers

ICETRA enforces both of these regulations.

How regulation no. 261/2004 works has been covered, but those passengers who believe that requirements concerning special assistance have been violated which regulation no. 1107/2006 makes provision for, can turn to ICETRA.


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