Is this really an “extraordinary” circumstance, Norwegian Air?


Normally, someone like Camille Burgan wouldn’t care what is, or isn’t, an “extraordinary” circumstance.

But, as you probably guessed, this isn’t a normal situation. Burgan is embroiled in an EU 261-related dispute, and there’s money at stake — roughly $1,200.

And, as you probably also guessed after reading the category of this story (“Case Dismissed”), Norwegian Air won this one and Burgan lost.

No matter. I’m writing about it anyway because it shows that even today, with multiple EU court rulings, airlines can still let themselves off on a technicality. And too often, they do.

Burgan and her brother were scheduled to fly from Oakland, Calif., to Stockholm, with a connection to Helsinki. Then Norwegian changed the itinerary, adding a few minutes to her arrival time and giving her just an hour to make a connection.

“It left us with little time to catch our next Norwegian flight,” she explains. “So both my mom and I called in to let them know our concerns but we were just pooh-poohed by their rep who stated, ‘We’ll hold the plane for you’ after we explained we had time constraints involved upon arrival.”

And you know what happened next, right?

The flight arrived late, Burgan and her brother didn’t make their planned connection and had to wait another three hours for the next flight to Finland.

Under EU 261, they’re entitled to compensation. Burgan claims the airline owes her $1,200.

Norwegian gave her an immediate and hard “no.”

“This delay was caused by unforeseen difficulties with the facilities at the airport,” a representative wrote. “This is outside of Norwegian control and considered extraordinary circumstances.”

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“Extraordinary” circumstances is the airline trump card. Play it, and you don’t need to offer any compensation. Heck, you don’t even have to offer a clear explanation of why you’re playing it.

If you have a problem with the explanation, take the airline to court — if you can.

You can forgive Burgan for her response:

You only stated that there was a problem with the facilities at the airport but not the exact problem. We would like to know these details and how we can verify them.

It seems odd that your staff would be so misinformed as to state that this problem was because the previous Norwegian flight using the same gate arrived late causing such a major backup.

Your reply is very ambiguous and also seems that we, your clients, are not valued enough to pass our situation on to your supervisor for further review. This is extremely poor customer service.

Norwegian replied that it couldn’t offer a detailed explanation to every customer and dared her to go ahead and file a complaint with European regulators.

But wait. Did this mysterious airport event cause the delay, or was it Norwegian’s rescheduling of her outbound flight? Hmmm.

Our advocacy team wondered, too. So we contacted Norwegian on Burgan’s behalf. Sadly, we received the same answer: Sorry, airport delays.

Seems to me that European carriers like to use the “extraordinary” excuse whenever they think they can get away with it, which is increasingly often. That’s especially true when customers like Burgan can’t independently verify the cause of the delay and don’t have the resources to take the airline to court.

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I hate to send this one to the Case Dismissed folder. But Burgan is in good company. If her delay had happened in the States, she’d also be out of luck. We have no EU 261 here. Too bad.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Dutchess

    At this point, why not file the EU claim and see how the airline responds?

  • Steve Rabin

    Very maddening. And Norwegian must know that either people won’t bother to go after them, or figure it’s ‘our word against yours, and we won’t tell you our word’.

  • Bill___A

    I realize there is a law, but would I bother going after an airline if I had a three hour delay? No.

  • Dan

    In the US I wouldn’t bother but I would file the official complaint with regulators in a place where the law says that delay entitles me to $1,200.

  • Alan Gore

    When Norwegian changed the time of LW’s flight, it created an illegal connection from an international flight. It should have rescheduled the ongoing flight at the time.

  • Bill___A

    I would if it caused me grief or I was annoyed at how the airline did things. but normally, three hours….not enough to mess with. Had a five hour delay on this past Friday. Weather, as you can imagine.

  • AJPeabody

    Which would have produced — a three hour delay!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Based on what do you make this claim? MCT at ARN for Int’l to Int’l is 60 minutes.

  • FQTVLR

    As strange as it is to us the 1 hour is actually a legal connecting time in Stockholm so if the change gave the OP an hour to make the change then it was a legal connection.

  • FQTVLR

    I am curious about some missing information. How late was the flight? Did it land on time and then have to wait around for a gate? Was the delay in deplaning? Passport control or security? I am sure the OP provided some of this information but am surprised you do not give more details. If the flight was late landing then Norwegian would be at fault if it was not a weather delay. Since we do not know that or any other details about the late arrival we have no real idea if Norwegian is hiding behind the “extraordinary circumstances” excuse or if there might actually be some truth to their statement. (I tend to not believe the airline in these instances but the timeline here is much to vague for me to form an educated opinion.)
    And you mention only a few minutes difference between the original flight time and the new time resulting from the schedule change. What was the time difference–5 minutes, 10 minutes or more than that? Legal connecting time in Stockholm is 1 hour–even from international to another international flight so the schedule change appeared to meet that requirement.

  • Alan Gore

    For an international flight? Recently when I booked PHX-LHR-PSA, the international minimum was 90 minutes. That was assuming an airside transit at the connecting airport.

  • Alan Gore

    I mean put LW on a different Helsinki flight, even if that would mean interlining.

  • FQTVLR

    MCT varies by airport. It is not a standard time. It will even vary at airport based on the carrier you are on.

  • BubbaJoe123

    You are aware that LHR and ARN are different airports in different countries, right?

    Might I suggest, before you make sweeping categorical statements, you actually educate yourself on the topic.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Oh, and the MCT at LHR isn’t even 90 minutes in all cases. For BA int’l-int’l in T5, it’s 60 minutes in most cases.

  • Alan Gore

    When you connect from a flight that has come from the US, a small deviation for enroute weather or traffic, the kind that happens all the time, can extend to enough minutes to blow a one-hour connection. And I don’t have to conjecture or embellish anything, because that is exactly what happened in LW’s case.

    Here is some discussion from an airline forum on Arlanda’s ultra-short connection times:
    https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/sas-eurobonus/1259674-arn-connection-merged.html
    Note that all of the legal, though scary, short connects in this discussion are from nearby European airports like FRA and CDG. The one pax connecting from the US (EWR) is afraid that his 90-minute connect time is not going to be enough, and the commentary from experienced travelers backs him up on being cautious.

  • BubbaJoe123

    You said “When Norwegian changed the time of LW’s flight, it created an illegal connection from an international flight.”

    That statement is false. You should retract it, and apologize for spreading false information due to a lack of research on your part.

    If you had said “When Norwegian changed the time of LW’s flight, it created an uncomfortably short connection,” I would have agreed with you. You didn’t.

    That said, if you read that FT thread, you’ll see that the people with experience with the airport are generally very comfortable with very tight US-origin I-I connections (see post 38, for example).

  • Alan Gore

    I would only retract my statement if I were wrong. One hour is not enough for a connection from Oakland. In the FT thread, a 90-minute connect from Newark is cited as iffy. From Oakland, you would have to allow for still more time.

  • Sue Smith

    Bubba, quit being so ornery.

  • BubbaJoe123

    You said it was an illegal connection. That’s false. Pretty sad that you’re trying to double down and obfuscate.

    Also, if you had actually read the FT thread you’re citing, you’ll see posts saying:

    *1 hr EWR-ARN-HEL is fine (#25)
    *1 hr EWR-ARN-TLL was fine, even though he had to pick up bags and recheck them
    *70 minutes is enough for EWR-ARN-TOS on separate tickets

    So, you’re refusing to admit your error, attempting to move the goalposts, and then providing “evidence” that doesn’t even support your new assertion.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Out of curiosity, why aren’t you calling Alan out for making stuff up, and refusing to own up to it when it’s pointed out?

  • Michael__K

    The burden is on the airline to PROVE “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.”

    Assuming the incident occurred in Finland, the relevant National Enforcement Body is the Finnish Consumer Disputes Board. The OP should fill out the Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form and send it to their email address.

    If that doesn’t eventually result in either compensation or a very convincing explanation that extraordinary circumstances truly applied, then the OP can use one of the many companies which litigate EC 261 claims in exchange for a commission on the compensation. The companies out there include:
    RefundMe (http://www.refund.me)
    AirHelp (http://www.getairhelp.com)
    EUclaim (http://www.euclaim.co.uk/)
    GreenClaim (http://www.greenclaim.com)
    Claimair (http://claimair.com/)
    WeClaim (http://www.weclaim.com/)
    Bott&Co (http://www.bottonline.co.uk/)

    The relevant statute of limitations in Finland appears to be 5 years.

  • C Schwartz

    Why would a flight from Oakland need more time to connect than a flight from Newark? Newark is prone to heavy delays.

    Minimum Connection Times are highly optimistic. They may be legal but often are not practical.

  • C Schwartz

    My reading was that the delay happened in Arlanda and the connection to Helsinki was missed.

    Maybe they should lodge a complaint to the Swedish authorities?

  • C Schwartz

    I am curious about the time change which was referred to as a few minutes.. what is a few — less than several?

  • C Schwartz

    Norwegian does not interline; that is a drawback of many low cost carriers.

  • Alan Gore

    OAK – ARN is a 10 h 10m flight, while EWR-ARM id 7h 30m. Longer flights mean more possibility of delays for weather and traffic.

  • Alan Gore

    For my routing there was a change of terminals, which at Heathrow makes the 90 minutes they cited highly optimistic. Based on experience at that specific airport, I insisted on a longer connect.

  • C Schwartz

    Uh no. The delays are at take off and landing, not in transit. Head winds can affect any flight no matter what the distance and slow an aircraft down.

    Once an aircraft is at cruising altitude there are no traffic delays — again may be headwinds but airlines tend to factor those in to scheduled times.

    Newark tends to hit the top five list in the US for delays– up there with JFK and LGA. The NE corridor has a lot more congestion.

    JFK EWR and LGA are my local airports and delays are a major issue.

  • Michael__K

    Thanks — edited.

  • RightNow9435

    Definitely file the EU Claim, and also consider using one of those “refund services”.

  • DChamp56

    Not sure if you can do this, but can you call the airport itself, and find out if there was a delay at the gate that was their fault?

  • Attention All Passengers

    “….. but we were just pooh-poohed by their rep who stated, ‘We’ll hold the plane for you’ after we explained we had time constraints involved upon arrival.”
    ————-
    “We’ll hold the plane for you”…….what a joke. You might as well ask the janitor of the airport terminal what is going to happen. Where do these phone reps get off flat out lying or guessing their way through a problem? Horrible customer service.

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