Supreme Court Rules: Pilot’s Illness Doesn’t Excuse Flight Cancellations

Flight cancellations due to the pilot’s falling ill landed in the favor of a couple seeking compensation, according to a Supreme Court ruling. The court agreed that the pilot’s falling ill didn’t represent an “extraordinary circumstance.” In light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, this judgment further strengthens passengers’ rights under EU flight compensation laws.


The Supreme Court declared that passengers are entitled to compensation for canceled flights even if the pilot falls ill. The spike of this ruling arose following a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lipton, demanding a compensation of €250, around £220, after the cancellation of their flight with BA Cityflyer to Milan. Cityflyer had been bickering that the illness of the pilot fell into the “extraordinary circumstance” clause under EU flight compensation rules, exempting itself from paying.

In Lipton and Partner v BA Cityflyer Ltd, the Liptons were faced with a number of run-ins with the law. Having found their claim first rejected by a deputy district judge at Portsmouth County Court, and then by a circuit judge at Winchester County Court, on a further appeal the Court of Appeal upheld their position, which led Cityflyer to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld the Liptons’ case. They held that the Court of Appeal was misguided in its application of the law. Most of the judges put the emphasis on the fact that the law in effect at the time of the incident should be in effect, not amendments to the law after the fact. This continues to hold law not to have a retroactive change.

The first averment of Cityflyer, which is that pilot sickness is extraordinary, is dismissed by the judgment, as it declared that a pilot becoming ill was a rather ordinary event in the annals of airline services. The court mentioned that within the endeavor of flight operations phenomena like pilot sickness are contained.


They agreed in the result and gave their reasons, Lord Burrows concurring with the majority, though Lord Lloyd-Jones expressed his view just a little differently as to the way in which the EU law in question by the majority is to be interpreted but agreed that this made no difference in the result of the case. He stated that how EU laws apply post-Brexit did not fundamentally arise in the context as set down.

The Supreme Court, indeed, stated that its decision would ensure that “passengers’ rights reserve respect” even during an event of force majeure, such as a pilot getting indisposed. This case will be a precedent for airlines just as much as the importance of not paying for compensation under such reasons won’t pass ‘low-key’. Also, it reinstates the rights of the passengers have not changed at all with the Brexit from the EU rules.


Following to the verdict wherein the high court sided with the Lipton couple, such decision would only say “that airlines should” in the final analysis. Shutting down of flights and cancellations should be compensated unless there is a cause that is really extraordinary, not including the usual problems, such as pilots getting sick. It is a win previously unknown to passengers, where they can be fairly treated and respected regarding their rights.

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