Photo 1506695939086 156c2eff767b

Passenger Rights: Compensation for Flight Cancellation caused by Co-Pilot's Unexpected Death

Thursday, May 11, 2023

If a flight is cancelled due to the unexpected death of a co-pilot, this does not release the airline from the obligation to compensate passengers financially, the European Court of Justice ruled today.

The highest court of Europe made this decision because it wants to emphasize once again “that measures relating to the staff of the operating air carrier, such as those concerning crew planning and staff working hours, fall within the normal exercise of that carrier’s activities.”

TAP Portugal

In a case against TAP Portugal, the European Court considered a flight from Stuttgart to Lisbon where the co-pilot for the flight in question suddenly died. As a result, the crew reported sick and the flight was cancelled. The ruling has now established that this is not an extraordinary circumstance and that it is the operational responsibility of the airline to bring passengers to their destination on time or to offer a timely alternative.

Operational responsibility

Fortunately, a tragic event such as the death of a pilot just before a flight is rare. The European Court wants to make a clear point here as to where the responsibility extends to an airline, says Tom van Bokhoven, the CEO of air passenger rights organisation Airlines regularly claim that a flight has been delayed or even cancelled due to problems with their crew. Judges agreed to what has long argued in court — that sudden illness or failure of the crew falls within normal business operations.

Airlines must plan for unforeseen circumstances. If a flight is cancelled due to the absence or illness of a crew member — or even a tragic situation such as sudden death — the rights of passengers must be safeguarded.


Since 2010, has been helping passengers fight for their rights in the event of delayed, cancelled, and overbooked flights. We have legal teams in 9 countries, have won 98 % of court cases, and work exclusively on a "no win, no fee" basis.