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Air passengers’ right to compensation

The amount of compensation to which passengers are entitled depends on the amount of kilometres of the flight in question.

The amount of compensation to which passengers are entitled depends on the amount of kilometres of the flight in question.

An air passenger could be entitled to compensation even in the case of connecting flights to third countries and with stopovers in third countries, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recently ruled.

EU law endows air passengers departing from an airport located in EU territory or departing from an airport outside EU territory to one located within the EU, with a number of rights. One of these rights is precisely that to claim compensation in the eventuality that such passengers are denied boarding against their will or their flight is cancelled. A delay at arrival point of at least three hours gives the same rights in terms of compensation as a cancelled flight. The amount of compensation to which passengers are entitled depends on the amount of kilometres of the flight in question.

The facts of this case were briefly as follows. A passenger booked a flight with Royal Air Maroc from Germany to Agadir in Morocco, with a stopover along with a change of aircraft in Casablanca, Morocco.  When she presented herself for boarding to fly to Agadir from Casablanca, the airline did not allow her to board, informing  her that her seat had been reassigned to another passenger. The passenger eventually boarded another flight of the same airline and arrived in Agadir four hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

Rulings such as this serve to provide legal certainty for consumers

The passenger subsequently applied for compensation as provided for by EU law. The airline refused to compensate her, alleging that the EU regulation in question does not apply to flights affected exclusively outside the EU. The applicability of the EU regulation therefore hinged on whether the two flights – Berlin to Casablanca and Casablanca to Agadir – which were booked as a single unit, ought to be classified as a single (connecting) flight departing from an EU member state or whether it would be appropriate to consider them separately. In the latter case, the flight from Casablanca to Agadir would therefore fall outside the scope of EU law.

The German court seized of the case filed a preliminary reference before the CJEU seeking guidance on this matter.

The CJEU observed that the EU regulation in question and the jurisprudence on the matter leads to the conclusion that when two or more flights are booked as a single unit, such flights constitute a whole for the purpose of passengers’ right to compensation. Such flights must therefore be considered as one and the same. A ‘connecting flight’ and any change of aircraft which may take place during such a connecting flight is irrelevant.

The court noted that the EU regulation in question does not provide that in the case of a connecting flight, all of the flights included must be effected aboard the same aircraft. Hence, a flight effected under a single booking which comprises, between its departure from within the EU and its arrival in a third country, a scheduled stopover in a third country with a change of aircraft, still falls within the scope of the relevant EU law. Any passengers aboard such a flight are still entitled to the rights given by such law, including the right to claim compensation.

Rulings such as this serve to provide legal certainty for consumers as well as for airlines themselves.

Mariosa Vella Cardona is a freelance legal consultant specialising in European law, competition law, consumer law and intellectual property.

law.mariosa@vellacardona.com

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