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Lack of Airport Staff

Lack of airport staff as extraordinary circumstances

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in case C-405/23 that the lack of airport staff may constitute extraordinary circumstances within the meaning of Article 5 (3) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004.

In the case at hand, a delay of more than 3 hours occurred, inter alia, because the loading of baggage onto the plane had been slowed down as there had been an insufficient number of staff of the airport operator responsible for that service. The question whether such lack of airport staff may constitute extraordinary circumstances was referred to the ECJ by the regional court of Cologne in its role as court of appeal.

The ECJ cited its prior ruling C-308/21 in which it was stated that general failures of an airport´s refueling system are not to be regarded as being intrinsically linked to the operation of the aircraft which completed the delayed flight. According to the ECJ, it is for the referring court to determine, whether the failures of the baggage loading operations due to a lack of airport staff must be regarded as a general failure in accordance with the cited case law. Regarding the criterion that extraordinary circumstances must also be beyond the air carrier´s control, the ECJ stated that it is for the referring court to determine whether the air carrier was able to exercise effective control over the operator of the airport.

It was further emphasized that extraordinary circumstances alone are not sufficient to relieve air carriers from their obligation to pay compensation to passengers. Air carriers must additionally state and proce that they took all reasonable measures appropriate to the situation.

Don’t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passsenger claims in Austria.

The legal basis and the transferability of passenger rights

The legal basis and the transferability of passenger rights

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in case C-11/23 that the entitlement to compensation for flight cancellations stems directly from Regulation (EC) 261/2004 and is independent from a contract of carriage the parties may have or may have not entered into. This clarifies that passengers have a right to compensation regardless of contractual stipulations, provided that they meet the conditions set forth in the Regulation.

Additionally, the ECJ stated that clauses within an air carrier´s General Conditions of Carriage (GCC) that limit a passenger´s options to transfer his rights granted by Regulation (EC) 261/2004 constitutes an impermissible restriction of his rights and is, therefore, null and void. The ECJ highlighted that in order to ensure a high level of protection for passengers, it is necessary to guarantee those affected by a cancellation the freedom to choose the most effective way to defend his or her right, including (where provided for by the relevant national law) to transfer his or her claim to a third party.

More detailed information on the use of GCC in Austria can be found in our article “General Conditions of Carriage in Austria“.

Don’t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passsenger claims in Austria.

Urteil zu ABB

Ruling on the GCC of a Hungarian Airline

The Austrian Supreme Court recently issued a new ruling (4 Ob 222/22h) on the General Conditions of Carriage (GCC) of a Hungarian airline, declaring numerous clauses therein as unlawful. This decision is the latest in a series of judgments against air carriers and their GCC.

The proceedings were initiated by the “Bundeskammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte”, an association authorized to litigate under the Austrian Consumer Protection Act and aimed to prohibit the airline from using certain clauses in their GCC. In its decision, spanning over 100 pages, the Austrian Supreme Court addressed numerous clauses, providing significant guidance for all air carriers operating in Austria.

Since authorized associations, especially the “Verein für Konsumenteninformation” (VKI) and the Bundeskammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte, can (and regularly do) file such lawsuits against airlines operating in Austria, it is advisable for air carriers to use this new ruling on GCC as an opportunity to review their own GCC. More detailed information on the standard procedures of associations authorized to file such lawsuits, the system of reviewing GCC in Austria, and the criteria applied can be found in our article “General Conditions of Carriage in Austria“.

The clauses whose use has now been prohibited by the Austrian Supreme Court include:

  • Liability exclusion for fragile luggage
  • Choice of law clause in favor of Hungarian law
  • The possibility of rebooking to an alternative means of transportation
  • Restriction of rights under Regulation (EC) 261/2004 (“Air Passenger Rights Regulation”)
  • Submission of compensation claims exclusively via the airline’s website

Our experienced Aviation Team is happy to answer your questions about the use of General Conditions of Carriage in Austria, review your GCC to reduce the risk of legal proceedings, and represent you in court.

The necessity to suffer a loss of time to receive compensation

The necessity to suffer a loss of time to receive compensation

In its recent rulings on cases C-474/22 and C-54/23, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) clarified that passengers are not entitled to a compensation payment in cases when their booked flight is delayed by more than 3 hours if they did not actually suffer a loss of time themselves, especially if they did not present themselves for check-in.

Traditionally, passengers whose flights arrive over three hours after the scheduled arrival time have been entitled to the same compensation passengers of cancelled flights receive. This principle was established in the landmark Sturgeon ruling (C-402/07 and C-432/07). However, the recent ECJ rulings demonstrate that there are still differences between flights that are cancelled and those that are significantly delayed.

The cases in question both involved flights from Düsseldorf (Germany) to Palma de Mallorca (Spain) where the operating carriers announced significant delays. In case C-474/22, upon learning of the delay, the passenger chose not to board the flight and later assigned his rights to flightright, which then sued the carrier for compensation. In case C-54/23, another passenger opted to book an alternative flight, resulting in an arrival delay of less than three hours.

The ECJ ruled that in both instances, the passengers are not eligible for compensation. This decision was based on Article 3 of Regulation 261/2004, which sets forth that the regulation only applies if passengers – except in cases of cancellations – present themselves for check-in in a timely manner. The passengers argued that this criterion should not apply in situations where the operating carrier had already announced that the flight would be delayed more than 3 hours, since such significant delays must be treated like cancellations.

However, the ECJ did not follow this reasoning ant stated that its landmark decision in the Sturgeon case was based on the concept that passengers enduring a delay of three hours or more suffer an irreversible loss of time and, consequently, a level of inconvenience comparable to that of passengers on cancelled flights. According to the ECJ’s rationale, compensation is a redress for this loss of time. Therefore, since the passengers in the recent cases either did not board their flights or managed to reduce their delay through alternative bookings, they did not experience the same loss of time and are, thus, not entitled to compensation.

However, it’s important to note that these passengers might still have other rights under Regulation 261/2004 or applicable law, such as ticket reimbursement or damages equivalent to the costs of the alternative flights they booked.

Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passenger claims in Austria.

Denied Boardings

Recent court practice on denied boardings

On 26 October 2023, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a new ruling on the interpretation of Articles 4 and 5 of Regulation 261/2004 in connection with denied boardings (case C-238/22).

In this ruling, the ECJ determined that an air carrier that informs a passenger in advance that, against the passenger´s will, they will be denied boarding for a flight with a confirmed reservation, must compensate that passenger, even if the passenger does not present themselves for boarding.

In the case at hand, the air carrier denied transporting the passenger on the inbound flight because they had not taken the outbound flight, a common practice based on so-called “No-Show Clauses”.[1] The ECJ interpreted this application of a No-Show-Clause as a denied boarding, disregarding the interpretative guidelines on Regulation 261/2004 published by the EU Commission on 10 June 2016.

Furthermore, the ECJ ruled that Article 5(1)(c)(i) of Regulation 261/2004 does not apply to cases in which passengers are denied boarding. Therefore, the air carrier must provide compensation payments (Article 7) to passengers, even if they informed the passengers at least two weeks in advance that they will refuse to carry them.

On 11 July 2023, the Austrian Regional Court Korneuburg faced a case (22 R 120/23m) with the following circumstances:

An air carrier was confronted with a shortage of security staff at its homebase (LHR) in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in difficulties in handling a sudden increase in passenger numbers during the travel boom following the end of COVID-related travel restrictions. As a response, the air carrier decided to “cancel” several flights due to the challenges in performing the required security checks on the passengers.

The “canceled” flights were, in fact, performed by the air carrier, using the planned time slots, flight numbers and destinations, but with cargo only – without passengers on board.

The Regional Court Korneuburg, serving as the court of appeal, determined that such cases do not constitute a cancellation within the meaning of Article 5 of Regulation 261/2004 but rather constitute denied boardings within the meaning of Article 4.

Additionally, the court emphasized that, in cases of denied boardings, it is irrelevant if the reasons for such denied boardings could constitute extraordinary circumstances within the meaning of Article 5. According to the applicable Article 4, air carriers are always obligated to immediately compensate passengers in accordance with Article 7 if they are denied boarding against their will.

According to Article 2(j) “denied boarding” means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation. The court concluded (citing ECJ case C‑321/11, 32) that a reason for a denied boarding must be attributable to the passenger who is being denied boarding.

Since the reason for the air carrier´s decision not to transport passengers on the flight in question was not in any way attributable to the passenger, there were no reasonable grounds within the meaning of Article 2(j) for the denied boarding. Consequently, the Regional Court Korneuburg ruled in the passenger´s favor and ordered the air carrier to pay compensation to the passenger.

Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passenger claims in Austria.