According to Article 8 of Regulation 261/2004, passengers have the right to choose between reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket within 7 days or re-routing to their final destination in cases of denied boardings, cancellations, and significant delays. A question of major practical relevance arises regarding whether the wording “full cost of the ticket” includes the obligation for air carriers to reimburse any agency fees passengers had to pay during the booking process.
In its ruling C-601/17 (Harms/Vueling), the ECJ clarified that the reimbursement should encompass the price of the ticket, including the commission collected by a person acting as intermediary between the air carrier and the passenger (i.e., an agency fee), unless that commission was set without the knowledge of the air carrier.
While this ruling provided important guidance, it also raised a new question: What exactly does “knowledge of the air carrier” mean?
To fully grasp this question, it is crucial to understand how flight tickets are sold. Tickets are primarily sold either directly through the air carrier´s website or by utilizing a travel agency (either physically or online). In order to facilitate ticket sales by travel agencies, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) grants IATA-certified agencies the authority to issue tickets directly for its airline members.
Traditionally, these travel agencies acted as commercial agents for airlines and received service fees from them. However, over the last 20 years, numerous airlines have altered their pricing models to exclude service fee payments to travel agencies and promoted ticket purchases directly through their own websites. Consequently, travel agencies have adapted their business models and now add fees to the ticket prices paid by their customers, the passengers. Nonetheless, the travel agencies retain the right to issue flight tickets directly.
In response to C-601/17, passengers (represented by their lawyers or claim farms) argued that due to the special relationship between air carriers and travel agencies, reimbursements of ticket costs must include agency fees. They contended that air carriers are aware that travel agencies typically charge fees as part of their business model and that this general knowledge is sufficient to establish the air carrier´s obligation to reimburse the agency fees.
While there have been numerous German rulings on this topic, Austrian rulings, especially by the highly relevant Regional Court Korneuburg, have been scarce. Therefore, we are delighted to announce that our Aviation Team recently managed to obtain two favorable rulings from the Regional Court Korneuburg in this matter on behalf of one of our airline clients.
In these rulings (22 R 226/22y and 22 R 37/23f), the Regional Court Korneuburg (upon our appeals against decisions rendered by the District Court Schwechat) stated that the term “knowledge” used by the ECJ refers to the specific knowledge about the agency fee charged by the intermediary. The court emphasized that the different elements of a ticket, such as the price, must be approved by the air carrier, which can only occur with specific knowledge. The potential information rights of air carriers based on IATA agreements or the existence of incentive agreements that do not specify the amount of the agency fee do not alter this conclusion.
Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passenger claims in Austria.