‘Dirty socks smell’ stops Swiss Air flight: passengers not compensated

We look at the EU rules governing payouts for when flights are cancelled or delayed 

17 November 2021

A Swiss Air flight was turned back mid-journey due to an unusual smell similar to dirty socks Pic: servickuz / Shutterstock

By Oliwia Geisler

Swiss Air is not compensating passengers after a flight from Heathrow to Zurich was turned back due to a mystery smell like ‘dirty socks’ coming from the cockpit.

The November 7 flight LX339 was turned back before it reached the Channel and the 101 passengers were rebooked onto other flights or put up in hotels.

The airline told The Connexion that ‘the pilots noticed an unusual smell… as a consequence, they returned to London Heathrow airport’.

Investigations later could not establish the cause of the smell and a test flight was carried out but no irregularities were detected.

Swiss Air did not compensate passengers for the delay, citing safety concerns and maintaining that the case is classed as ‘extraordinary circumstances’, which under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation do not give cause for monetary compensation.

A claim for support services such as the hotel, meals and rebooking was, however, provided.

We recap below the EU rules, which also govern Switzerland, on compensation for flight delays and cancellations, and when these apply. Each airline will have its own practices but the EU regulation outlines the minimum requirements:

The rules on cancellations

If your flight is cancelled, you should receive reimbursement of the tickets (including parts of the journey not made and those made futile in relation to the original travel plan) or re-routing under satisfactory conditions.

You are entitled to, where relevant, hotel accommodation, meals and refreshments, transport to airport and accommodation and two phone calls, emails, telex or fax messages.

You are also due monetary compensation, unless:

-  you are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled departure time

- you are informed of the cancellation 7-14 days before scheduled departure and offered re-routing (departing no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure and reaching the final destination less than four hours after the originally scheduled time of arrival)

- you are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing (departing no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure and reaching the final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival)

How much compensation are you due if eligible?

Type of flight 

Money due 

1,500km or less 

€250

Intra-community flight* of over 1,500km 

€400

All other flights between 1,500 and 3,000km 

€400

Any other flights 

€600

*between two EU states or internally in a EU state

The rules on delays

If the delay is in line with the following table:

Type of flight

Length of delay 

Flights of 1,500 kilometres or less

2+ hours 

Intra-community* flights of more than 1,500 kilometres

3+ hours 

all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres

3+ hours

All other flights 

4+ hours 

*between two EU states or internally in a EU state

You are entitled to, where relevant, hotel accommodation, meals and refreshments, transport to airport and accommodation and two phone calls, emails, telex or fax messages.

If the delay is five hours or more, you are also entitled to reimbursement of the tickets (including parts of the journey not made and those no longer serving purpose in relation to the original travel plan).

When the rules apply

- If your flight is within the EU (operated by an EU or a non-EU airline)

- If your flight departs from the EU (operated by an EU or a non-EU airline)

- If your flight arrives in the EU (operated by an EU airline)

- If you have not already received benefits (such as compensation or re-routing) from the airline under the relevant law of a non-EU country.

The term EU here encompasses all 27 member states as well as Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin (French Antilles), the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The Faroe Islands are not included.

What about the rules for the UK?

From January 1 2021, the EU regulation does not apply to flights from the UK to the EU operated by UK or other non-EU carriers.

However, if the flight is operated by an EU carrier, the rules still apply (unless you have already received compensation or benefits under UK law).

This also applies to tickets bought before January 1. 

The EU rules apply for all flights from the EU to the UK.

When the EU Passenger Rights Regulation does not apply 

The regulation refers to ‘extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken’, such as:

- political instability

- the weather

- security risks

- unexpected flight safety shortcomings

- strikes that affect the operation of the air carrier*

- an air traffic management decision

*Strikes may be considered extraordinary circumstances if the airline can prove that there is a link between the strike and the delay or cancellation, and that the delay or cancellation could not have been avoided if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Disputing a decision

Each member state will have a designated body responsible for the enforcement of this regulation to whom you may complain if you feel the regulation has been infringed or if you do not receive a response from the airline within two months.

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Delayed or cancelled trains in France: How to get compensation

Missed a flight in France? A mediator can help you claim compensation

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