Airlines must pay compensation for cancelled flights caused by pilots falling ill while on duty, after the Supreme Court ruled there were no “extraordinary circumstances”.

Kenneth and Linda Lipton took BA Cityflyer, a division of British Airways, to court after arriving in London from Milan in January 2018 with a delay of more than two hours. Their original flight had been cancelled after a pilot fell ill at home while on holiday.

The airline refused to pay around £220 in compensation for the delay, arguing that the pilot’s illness was an “extraordinary circumstance” that could not have been avoided and was beyond the airline’s control.

After two courts upheld the company’s position, the Court of Appeal ruled in the couple’s favor, after which the airline took the case to the Supreme Court.

But on Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the company’s appeal.

In their judgment, Lord Sales and Lady Rose said it “does not matter” when the pilot became ill as the crew member remained an “inherent part of the airline’s business” even when not at work.

In a decision supported by Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Burrows and Lady Simler, they said: “If the pilot drinks to the extent that he is unable to work and the flight is cancelled, then the reason for the cancellation is inherent in the business and operations of the airline.

“The same applies to the need for the captain and other cabin crew to ensure they are adequately rested during stopovers.

“They have numerous obligations during these periods, both to their employers and to the public.

“This is all inherent in the carrier’s business and operations and if for whatever reason they are unable to turn up for work as a result of something going wrong during those rest periods, whether it is their fault or not, then that failure to turn up is not an extraordinary circumstance.”