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Top EU court tells airlines to pay delayed passengers

The European Court of Justice has ruled that air passengers facing delays of more than three hours are entitled to partial recompense from their airline. Among the few exceptions are thunder storms and terrorist attacks.

The Luxembourg-based court had been asked by Cologne's Administrative Court and the English High Court of Justice to deliberate more closely on a compensatory regulation enacted by the EU in 2004.

The ruling relates to the case of three British travelers who had sued Lufthansa over a lengthy flight delay.

The court on Tuesday endorsed one of its previous rulings on flight cancellations and said airlines could only withhold compensation when they had no influence over exceptional circumstances such as a hefty weather.

Judges said customers delayed for three hours or more were entitled to payments of between 250 and 600 euros ($782) - just like passengers who had faced flight cancellations.

These entitlements, the court ruled, apply to all passengers affected by such delays since 17 February 2005 when the EU regulation came into effect - as long as national deadlines for litigation had not expired.

"Passengers whose flights are delayed and those whose flights are cancelled 'at the very last moment' must be regarded as being in comparable situations ... because those passengers suffer similar inconvenience - namely, a loss of time," the court ruled.

Lufthansa, British Airways, easyJet, TUI Travel and the International Air Transport Association had challenged the delay compensation.

ipj/rg (dpad, AFP, dpa)