The height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel bans related thereto forced numerous airlines to cancel their flights and left passengers stranded far away from their homes. In many cases, these passengers were only able to return home by using special flights organised by their states – so-called repatriation flights.
In its ruling regarding case C-49/22 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) answered key questions raised by the Austrian Regional Court Korneuburg in connection with repatriation flights.
In the case at hand, the claimant booked (as part of a package holiday) the flights OS 17, scheduled for 7 March 2020 from VIE to MRU, and OS 18, scheduled for 20 March 2020 from MRU to VIE, both to be operated by Austrian Airlines. While flight OS 17 went ahead as scheduled, flight OS 18 was cancelled due to the measures taken by the Austrian government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 19 March the claimant was informed about the cancellation and the possibility to return to VIE by using a repatriation flight organised by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was scheduled for 20 March at the flight time originally reserved for OS 18 and operated by Austrian Airlines under OS 1024. The claimant and his wife registered for this repatriation flight and had to pay an obligatory contribution of EUR 500 per person.
The claimant eventually filed a lawsuit against Austrian Airlines, demanding compensation of the obligatory contribution amounting to EUR 1,000 while referring to Regulation 261/2004. The District Court Schwechat decided in the claimant´s favour, which led to an appeal by Austrian Airlines and a request for a preliminary ruling of the ECJ.
The ECJ decided that a repatriation flight does not constitute a „re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to [the] final destination“ within the meaning of Article 8(1)(b) of Regulation 261/2004. Therefore, operating air carriers are not obliged to offer repatriation flights to passengers whose flights have been cancelled.
The ECJ further ruled that passengers do not have a right to reimbursement of obligatory contributions to repatriation flights at the expense of the operating air carrier on the basis of Regulation 261/2004.
Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passenger claims in Austria.