In many cases you can hear that the flight delay or cancellation was due to exceptional circumstances and that’s why the passengers are not entitled to compensation. What are these exceptional circumstances? Sometimes it can seam a bit vague what exceptional circumstance is, hence we are going to explain what counts as exceptional circumstance or force majeure. By the way of introduction its worth mentioning that in case of exceptional circumstances, the passengers are not entitled to compensation, however they are still entitled to certain services from the airline. Force majeure is a circumstance, that can not be avoided despite all reasonable efforts. Hence in these cases the airline is not responsible.
Bad weather circumstances
The most common force majeure is the bad weather circumstance, when the airlines are forced to cancel or delay one or more flights. This often causes capacity issues, the airport gets over crowded. However no airline can properly prepare for this circumstance. In these cases of flight delay and cancellation passengers are not entitled to compensation, however the airline must provide certain services for the passengers.
When the circumstances either at the departure or at the destination airport suggest a politically unstable situation (eg. terror attack), that of course counts as an exceptional circumstance, that the airline can not influence. In this case the passengers are not entitled to compensation.
Collision with birds
Collision with birds understandably counts as exceptional circumstance, as in these cases the airline has to check the technical condition of the aircraft, to see if it is safe to operate.
Technical issues related to the operation of the aircraft can count as unusual circumstances in certain cases and not in others. In these cases you need to rely on the judgement of the experts, who decide whether the given technical issue derived from negligence or not. The situation is not obvious even if the technical issue was unexpected and it did not get flagged during the maintenance check. In case the flight was delayed or cancelled due to technical issues, the judgement of the experts will decide if it is force majeure or not.
In which cases is it unacceptable to refer to unusual circumstances?
In the past there were many arguments about aircraft collision with passenger stairs. The collision with passenger stairs of course can not count as an unusual event, that could not have been avoided by the airline, as it obviously accrued due to some negligence. An airline referring to this as unusual circumstance is of course unacceptable. Was your boarding denied referring to force majeure? All passengers should know that denied boarding can not be explained by referring to unusual circumstance. If the flight is not cancelled, only the boarding gets denied, then most likely the flight got overbooked, that under no circumstances counts as force majeure. In these cases the passenger is entitled to compensation.
According to the above it is clear when a passenger is entitled to compensation and when a situation counts as force majeure.