Airline blames bad weather to avoid flight compensation? How we can verify the truth

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The airline refuses to pay compensation and blames bad weather for flight delays or cancellations. How we can prove that weather conditions were good enough to take off.

Mr. Pawel asked Refunds4.me for help, his flight from Berlin to Frankfurt was cancelled at the last minute due to “bad weather conditions”. It was true that he arrived in Frankfurt on the next plane, but he did not manage to make his connection to a long-haul flight. The airline washed its hands and blamed it on the snow at the time. Wait, what snow? Mr. Pawel swears that the weather was excellent, he did not see a single snowflake, and in addition the sun was shining over the airport. How could an individual win an uneven argument with a huge organisation?

Regulation (EC) No 261/200 of the European Parliament and of the Council guaranteeing compensation for passengers on delayed or cancelled flights has left a small safety gate for airlines. They are not responsible in the event of force majeure. These are circumstances on which the carrier had no influence, could not foresee or prevent. These include, among others, states of natural disaster, terrorist attacks, air traffic control strikes and extremely adverse weather conditions. Bad weather preventing the flight has become a great excuse for refusing to pay compensation used by many airlines. How can you argue with the captain of a plane when he knows better? That’s why Refunds.4me consults with other qualified pilots.

Read also: Airlines often withhold information from passengers in order to avoid paying compensation.

Before we undertake weather analysis, we must understand what conditions must be met for the plane to take off or land at a given airport. Despite the prevailing misconceptions, it’s not about precipitation at all – planes are not made of sugar and can even fly in heavy rain. From the pilot’s point of view, the most important are the cloud base, wind strength and direction, and visibility on the runway. Each airport has its own weather minimums at which air operations can be performed. Planes also have their limitations. The fact that heavy Airbus A-380 lands easily with a strong side wind does not mean that you can land in a small turboprop aircraft under the same conditions. Fortunately, everything can be checked and verified.

The aviation authorities of each country publish the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP), containing civil airport data, which pilots will review before flying. However, before we find a set of information for the airport of interest, we must determine its ICAO code, under which it appears. For example, London Heathrow Airport in the ICAO designation is listed as EGLL.

From the AIP data we will find out whether the airport of interest to us has an ILS system (and which category) allows for landing with limited visibility, what is the minimum cloud base and whether there are any other restrictions that may cause temporary suspension of flight operations. The data that we found must now be compared with the weather conditions that prevailed at our airport at the time. We can’t just consult archived weather forecasts from the television, because it does not contain the data we need.

Weather reports for pilots are called metar, gamet, significant and TAF. The first two contain current weather information for the airport and airspace on a given day and time. Significant and TAF is, in turn, a forecast predicting weather trends for the coming hours. By searching the archive of metar messages from our airport, we can check with accuracy to the hour what was the strength and wind direction, air temperature, cloud base height, cloud cover, visibility on the runway, fog, dust or any rainfall. Metar messages for the  destination airport should also be analysed– the captain will not make a flight if, at the time of take-off, the weather conditions at the destination port do not allow safe landing. Care should also be taken about the hour of the weather report – it is published in the valid UTC time of aviation, which is used by the crews of all aircraft in the world. In summer, UTC time is one hour back compared to time in the UK, in winter there is no time difference.

Read also: Airlines pay billions in compensation for disrupted flights.

If the conditions for both airports met the weather minimums, we can very likely say that the airline has not given the true reasons for the cancelled flight. Another way we can gather evidence is by checking the flight archives. If at the airports in question, most other flights took off and landed at a similar time without delay, then the quoted “bad weather” reason is probably untrue.

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