Airlines have no case for compensation

You would need to have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for British Airways amid the air travel chaos, but that does not entitle the company to a government pay-out.

Ahead of the Easter holiday period, he sees flights disrupted by seven days of strike action by cabin crew.

And then, just when the holidaymakers are heading home, UK airspace is closed due to the risk posed by ash from the Icelandic volcanic eruption.

But any sympathy for BA, and the airline industry in general, should not cloud the judgement of EU commissioners and European governments in respect of the industry’s audacious appeal for “compensation”.

Mr Walsh claimed yesterday that there was a precedent for such assistance, in the form of payouts to airlines following the closure of US airspace in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

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To underline his message that the disruption is causing BA up to �20million a day, he added that “clearly the impact of the current situation is more considerable.”.

But if the aviation industry thinks it is deserving of a “more considerable” pay-out as a result, it should think again.

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A terrorist attack represents a break-down in law and order for which government might be expected to accept a measure of responsibility (although whether the 9/11 attacks were preventable is, despite the conspiracy theories, open to debate).

There is also no doubting the fact that it would have been physically possible for airlines to have carried on flying following 9/11; the decision to ground flights had as much to do with politics as it did with safety.

The closure of UK airspace, and that of many other European countries, as a result of the Icelandic volcano belongs, however, in an entirely different category.

The eruption is a natural event, entirely beyond the control of government or any other human agency, and the resulting disruption to air travel should be regarded as on a par with that which results from adverse weather.

Unless it can be demonstrated that civil aviation authorities have been quite ludicrously over-cautious in grounding flights – and the danger appears to have been real enough – there is no proper basis for compensation to be payable.

The attitude of the airlines appears to be a corporate manifestation of the growing tendency in western society generally to regard every misfortune as being somebody’s fault (and that somebody being somebody other than oneself, of course.)

If the airlines receive a pay-out because of volcanic ash, will ferry operators be entitled to the same treatment the next time stormy seas make it unsafe to leave harbour? And what of railways when it snows – particularly if it is the wrong sort of snow?

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