Airlines are ground Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and countries are banning their flights after the Sunday crash. Can you get compensation if your flight is affected?

On Sunday, an Ethiopian Air Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed, killing all onboard. This is the second fatal crash for this plane – part of the newest Boeing 737 generation – in 8 months. This had lead many airlines to ground their planes. Singapore, China, Malaysia, Australia and UK has banned their flights over their airspace. As of January 2019, 350 Max planes (8’s including) had been delivered.

Here’s a short list of airlines that have grounded their 737s as of the time of writing: Aerolineas Argentinas, AeroMexico, Air China, Cayman Airways, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Comair, Easter Jet, Enter Air, Ethiopian Airlines, Fuzhou Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Gol Transportes Aéreos, Hainan Airlines, Jet Airway, Kunming Airlines, Lion Air, Lucky Air, Mongolian Airlines (MIAT), OKAir, Royal Air Maroc, Shandong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, SilkAir, Xiamen Air, Norwegian seems to be the first large European carrier to do so.

Update: after EU banned B737 Max 8 flights yesterday, only the US remains as the one large operator to not do so.

As always, air passengers suffering from these cancelled flights should know that they have rights granted to them under Regulation (EC) 261/2004. The airline has to provide you with free meals and drinks. You should also be allowed to make two free calls, use e-mail or send a free fax. If you have to wait for the flight for one or more nights, the carrier has to provide you with free accommodation at a hotel, including transport to/from the airport. In case they’re unable/unwilling to do this, save the receipts: all “rational” expenses (no VIP penthouses, caviar or limos) should be refunded afterwards. Read more here.

Unfortunately, this seems like one of the rarest exceptional circumstances defined by (EC) 261/2004: cancelling the flight due to aircraft manufacturing defect. Usually, a technical issue that results in cancelled flights or flight delays is the considered the responsibility of the airline, as they messed up in maintenance. However, a worldwide grounding of planes is likely to be argued to be effect of flaws inherent in the plane’s design. This means you can’t claim cancelled flight compensation! Other rules still apply, so they airlines should still take care of you.

Cases like these don’t happen too often. Historically, de Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner, was grounded after three fatal crashes within 12 months. It lead to severe redesign of the plane, including replacing square windows with round ones.

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