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ECJ Rules In Favor Of Delayed Flight Passengers

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

27 November 2014

Damage to an aircraft caused by accidental collision with mobile boarding stairs does not constitute "extraordinary circumstances" under EU regulations designed to compensate passengers in the event of a long delay to their flight, according to a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The case was referred to the ECJ by the Local Court in Rüsselsheim, Germany, after three passengers traveling on a Condor flight from Antalya, Turkey, to Frankfurt, Germany, that arrived six hours late were denied compensation by the airline.

Under EU law, air carriers are required to pay passengers compensation in the event of the cancellation of a flight or a delay of more than three hours. However, the air carrier is relieved of that obligation if it can prove that the cancellation or the delay was caused by "extraordinary circumstances" that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Condor argued that the damage caused by the mobile boarding stairs that ultimately delayed the aircraft was an "extraordinary circumstance."

However, the ECJ disagreed, pointing out that mobile stairs or gangways are "indispensable to air passenger transport" and a collision between an aircraft and such equipment must be regarded as "an event inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier." This was despite the inclusion, in the list of permissible extraordinary circumstances, of "Damage to the aircraft primary or secondary structure (e.g. metallic or composite structure) caused by third parties on the ground prior to the departure of a flight and requiring immediate assessment and/or repair. For example, a collision between an airport vehicle and an aircraft."

The list of extraordinary circumstances includes war, political instability, illegal acts (including terrorism), extreme weather conditions, airport closures, medical emergencies, bird strikes, manufacturing defects, industrial relations issues, air traffic management restrictions, and unexpected safety shortcomings occurring either on the ground or in flight.

EU regulations about compensating passengers for flight cancellations and denial of boarding date back to 2004. However, the regulations were extended in scope to cover delays of at least three hours following a European test case known as the Sturgeon ruling (joint cases C-402/07 and C-432/07) in 2009.

Airlines have widely condemned the EU regulations. The International Air Transport Association has labeled the rules "deeply flawed" and warned that airlines would be forced to recoup money paid out in compensation to passengers by increasing air fares.

TAGS: aviation

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