EU judge sides with passengers against airlines

by Charlie Leocha on June 30, 2011

In an important ruling the European Union Advocate General has held that Air France was responsible for providing compensation to passengers after their flight was canceled. The airlines in Europe are responsible for paying for “care and assistance” as well as the normal compensation for the canceled flight.

Under EU law, when flights are canceled, passengers are due compensation for accommodation, meals and telephone calls. But what about other associated costs, like perhaps an extra day of boarding in a dog kennel for the family pet? Or additional housesitting costs? Or a taxi to your final destination from an alternative airport?

The judge’s ruling indicated that all of these expenses may be claimed for compensation fro the airlines. European Airlines and U.S. airlines operating in Europe have been fighting these strong consumer-friendly regulations since the Iceland volcano canceled flights for weeks and airlines were forced to compensate passengers for accommodations and meals. This ruling is one of the strongest against the airlines.

This particular cast involved an Air France flight that took off and later returned because of a mechanical matter. The flight was eventually canceled. Air France only offered compensation to one person on the flight.

One family on the flight was rerouted to Oporto and they took a taxi to Vigo, the plane’s original destination. They sued to get compensated for the taxi ride. Air France balked.

According to an ECJ statement issued Tuesday, “The advocate general finds that the reference to ‘further compensation’ cannot be limited to the compensation of the type provided by the regulation: The regulation does not set any limitation on the type of damage for which a passenger may make a claim. That question must be determined in light of national law, and may, therefore, include non-material damage. The advocate general finds that the reimbursement of such expenses should not be considered as ‘further compensation’ from which other compensation granted under the regulation may be deducted. The duty to pay compensation for a canceled flight and the duty to provide care and assistance are concurrent and cumulative—the airline may not escape liability by offsetting one against the other.”

In other words, though Air France agreed to fly the passengers to an alternative airport, the airline was still responsible for getting the passengers to their ultimate destination.

Another question raised by Air France was whether, in fact, the flight had been canceled. Air France claimed a take-off and a landing when the plane returned to the original airport. The judge determined that ultimately the plane flew nowhere and transported passengers nowhere. Therefore, it was canceled.

U.S. carriers who cancel flights in Europe or have extended delays fall under this EU rule as well. Make sure to check your rights when faced with delays in Europe, no matter what national airline you are flying.

Ryanair has instituted a €2 fee to cover these kinds of compensation issues. Call it insurance for the airlines. How long will it be before other airlines operating in Europe up their fees to make up for possible passenger compensation.

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  • globetrotter99

    Mixed blessing.  I don’t believe it is fair to hold the airlines responsible for acts of god (e.g., weather, volcanoes), but I do believe that cancellation for mechanical reasons are within their control and they should provide compensation for this. 

    Currently, in the US, if an airline has a severely overbooked flight, there may be an incentive to cancel it, rather than pay to “bump” people.

    Of course, adding liability for cancellations due to mechanical problems will also provide an incentive to keep some additional planes flying that might otherwise be grounded for mechanical reasons.

  • Carrie Charney

    “Air France claimed a take-off and a landing when the plane returned to the original airport.” …I can’t think of a better illustration of chutzpah!

  • Frank

    Currently, in the US, if an airline has a severely overbooked flight, there may be an incentive to cancel it, rather than pay to “bump” people.=======================================================

    that’s the most insane statement I’ve read in a long time here.  Cancel a flight because the airline is overbooked?  Actually, OVERBOOKING is a good thing.  It allows flights to go out FULL and in the process, hopefully make a profit on it.  Overbooking compensation is mostly for FUTURE travel on the airline at a reduced rate of the total fare.  Hardly a reason to cancel an entire flight, find seats for everyone on later flights, have a crew and aircraft stranded..etc..etc.

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