We are experiencing a period of the declared state of emergency, in which even moving out of our homes is subject to restrictions. However, when the pandemic goes away and we start traveling again, issues related to the rights and obligations of air carriers and passengers will become important. Undoubtedly, these issues will include cases of canceled flights and re-routing.
In a judgment dated 12.03.2020 the Court of the European Union (the “Court”) has considered a case of canceled flight with subsequent re-routing of passengers. The flight of the re-routed passengers was delayed. They received compensation from the air carrier for the canceled flight. The delay of the flight on the re-routing was significant enough so that a corresponding right to compensation arises.
Technical failure was the reason for the delay. It is about a part that is only replaced by a new part when it becomes defective. It has been established that the air carrier constantly holds a spare part available. The same air carrier was responsible for both of the flights.
The court ruled on the following issues:
1. Are air passengers who have received compensation for the cancellation of a flight are entitled to compensation for the delay of the re-routing flight, where the air carrier of the re-routing flight is the same as that of the canceled flight
The Court interpreted Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 (the “Regulation”) and held that an air passenger in the above case may claim compensation for the delay of the flight with which he was re-routed when that delay is so many hours, that he is entitled to compensation.
Routing is one of the options for passengers in a situation with a canceled flight.
The air passengers with delayed flights are entitled to compensation under the Regulation when they have reached their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time scheduled by the air carrier for that re-routing flight. The Regulation does not contain any provision intended to limit the rights of passengers who find themselves in a situation of re-routing to compensation.
Passengers who have been exposed to cancellations or long delays have suffered that inconvenience, both concerning the cancellation of their initially booked flight and subsequently as a result of the long delay of their re-routing flight. Therefore, the air passengers shall be granted those a right to compensation for each of those successive inconveniences. Otherwise, the failure of the air carrier to provide help in cases of a canceled flight would remain without consequence.
2. May an air carrier refer to “extraordinary circumstances”, related to the particular technical malfunction to be released from its obligation to pay compensation for the delayed flight, provided that it permanently stocks a spare part?
The Court recommended that the national court which had made the request should rather not consider the particular malfunction to be an exceptional circumstance, releasing the air carrier from responsibility.
Generally, an air carrier is to be released from its obligation to pay passengers compensation according to the Regulation if the air carrier can prove that the cancellation or delay of three hours or more is caused by “extraordinary circumstances” which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. When such circumstances do arise, the air carrier should prove that it adopted measures appropriate to the situation, using all its resources in terms of staff or equipment and the financial means at its disposal, to prevent that situation from resulting in the cancellation or long delay of the flight in question.
“Extraordinary circumstances” are the events, which by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are outside that air carrier’s actual control, both conditions being cumulative.
In the particular case, the technical malfunction by its origin is inherent to the plane operating system. Therefore, that malfunction should not be considered as an extraordinary circumstance, unless the national court, which requested the Court, verifies and finds that the above two cumulative conditions are at hand.