In its ruling in joined cases C-156/22 to C-158/22 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that the unexpected absence of a crew member does not constitute extraordinary circumstances and can, therefore, not release an operating air carrier from its obligation to pay compensation to passengers in case of cancellations or great delays.
The case at hand concerns a flight that should have been operated by TAP from Stuttgart (Germany) to Lisbon (Portugal), on 17 July 2019 with a departure scheduled at 6.05. However, on the morning of this day, at 4.15, the co-pilot that should have operated the flight concerned was found dead in his hotel bed. Shocked by this event, the whole crew declared itself unfit to fly. As there was also no replacement staff available in Stuttgart (outside TAP’s base), the flight was cancelled. The passengers were transported to Lisbon on a replacement flight scheduled at 16.40 on the same day.
The ECJ decided that the unexpected absence – due to illness or death of a crew member whose presence is essential to the operation of a flight – which occurred shortly before the scheduled departure of that flight, does not fall within the concept of extraordinary circumstances.
This is in line with the ECJ´s prior court practice that declared that measures relating to the staff of the operating air carrier fall within the normal exercise of the air carrier´s activities and, therefore, are not suitable for constituting extraordinary circumstances that could relieve an air carrier from its obligation to pay compensation to its passengers.
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