Compensation Clinic: Delta August 2016 Worldwide System Failure – EU 261/2004

Many of you heard about the worldwide system failure that hit Delta Airlines a few weeks ago (Monday August 8) that we previously wrote about here. Their computer systems were down affecting their operations globally and either canceling or delaying the majority of their flights that day.


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Especially hard hit were many European flights scheduled to depart to the USA.  Because those flights were covered under European regulation EU 261/2004, which we’ve written about several times on LoyaltyLobby:  here, here  and here, many passengers whose flights were canceled or severely delayed because of that system failure are entitled to cash compensation under European law.  This law not only covers European Union countries but also non-EU countries that are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

A Loyalty Lobby reader and his wife were scheduled to travel back on a Delta flight on August 10, two days after the Delta meltdown, but the lingering effects were still causing issues as noted below.  DL 261 was scheduled to depart Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) at 8:30 AM and arrive in Minneapolis, MN (MSP) at 10:00 AM; they also had a connecting flight to Cincinnati (CVG) that afternoon.

DL261 was initially delayed about an hour, then returned to the gate due to an overweight cargo issue (which was likely an indirect result of the system failure two days earlier) adding an additional hour or so delay.  The flight finally took off a little over 2 hours late but landed in MSP too late to make their connection, and after being rerouted our reader and his wife arrived at their destination 4 1/2 hours after originally scheduled.

The reader was initially told by a phone agent from Delta they had contacted while at MSP that they would each get a $200 travel voucher for their troubles, but he didn’t think that was acceptable (not knowing at the time that he was eligible at the time for compensation under EU 261/2004).  After returning home and learning about that law, he sent a note on the feedback portion of Delta’s website.  After getting a case number and further instructions, he sent Delta an email containing all the pertinent information for his case.  He was told Delta has a special team that takes care of all claims related to EU 261/2004 when they realize the flight numbers referenced are covered under this law.

Here was his letter to Delta:

Dear Sir/Madam, I sent a prior message about this topic (Case Number xxxx), however after reading Delta’s “Assistance and Compensation” and “International Conditions of Carriage” documentation, I’ve been directed to this e-mail account. I am writing regarding flight DL261 on August 10th 2016 from KEF to MSP with the scheduled departure time of 8:30. My booking reference is xxxx.

While we were on the plane at KEF, the captain said over the PA system that the aircraft was overweight with commercial cargo, and we had to return to the gate. This overloading added an additional 2 hour delay, and caused us to miss our flight to CVG. Due to this missed connection, our flight to CVG was rescheduled on DL4079, which was scheduled to arrive 4 hours and 32 minutes later than our originally scheduled flight (DL4640).

The judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Tui & Others v CAA confirmed the applicability of compensation for delay as set out in the Sturgeon case. As such, I am seeking compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004 for this delayed flight. My scheduled flight length was over 3500 kilometers; therefore, I am seeking 600 euros per delayed passenger in my party. The total compensation sought is 1200 euros. I look forward to hearing from you and would welcome a response in 7 days. If you need to reach me, you can respond via e-mail at xxxx, or by phone at xxxx. Thank you.

Here is Delta’s response

Thank you for your email advising us of the inconvenience you experienced due to our power outage and the subsequent failure of our technology as well as our backup systems that did not perform as expected. Getting our system reset took longer than expected and we left our customers as well as our front line teams without much needed information which may have contributed to the cargo loading error on your flight. We apologize for the disruption to your trip and appreciate your patience with us.

Your travel does fall under the guidelines of European Union Regulation (EC) 261/2004 defining an airline’s requirements when flight changes occur. Delta Flight 261 on August 10 from Reykjavik to Minneapolis was delayed for over two hours which caused you to miss your connection and delayed your arrival into Cincinnati by more than five hours.

After reviewing this claim, compensation is due in accordance with the EU recommendations. I’ll request a check in the amount of $670.25 USD, equivalent to 600 EUR for each of you. The check will be sent to your address. Please allow enough time for processing and postal delivery.

We appreciate your business and trust your future flights will be enjoyable. We hope you will continue to make Delta your airline of choice.

In total, Delta took less than 3 weeks from the time the reader put in the initial claim until the time they approved payment.

Just a reminder of your rights under that law:

If you are traveling within or from the EU or EEA to any destination on any airline, or traveling to the EU/EEA (but only on a European-based airline from outside the EU/EEA), and your flight is canceled or delayed more than a certain amount of time, you may be entitled to various benefits at the airport (meal vouchers, phone calls, etc.) as well as cash compensation for the delay or cancellation.

For longhaul flights (over 3500km/2175 miles) , if there is a delay that causes you to reach your destination more than 3 hours past your scheduled arrival time, this is generally treated the same way as a flight cancellation under this law, and you are entitled to 600 EUR per person in cash compensation from the airline, regardless of the cost of your ticket.

However, if there are extraordinary circumstances which are unavoidable by the airline (i.e. weather, security issues at the airport, medical reasons, etc.) then the delay/cancellation portion of the law wouldn’t apply, but travelers are still entitled to the airport benefits.  The system failure that Delta had that day and subsequent cargo loading error did not not fall into that category as it would have been deemed avoidable if the airline had the proper backup systems in place.


Delta and the US legacy carriers generally seem easier to deal with than European airlines when it comes to getting compensation from EU 261/2004 because the volume of claims they receive related to it are much lower than their European counterparts.  But it is always good to do your research and know your rights and document that clearly in your communication to the airlines before you seek out compensation.

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