AIR TRANSPORT : PASSENGERS' RIGHTS: OVERVIEW OF CASE LAW.

In a resolution, adopted on 29 March, the European Parliament asks the European Commission to take EU Court of Justice case law into account in its upcoming revision of Regulation 261/2004 on air passengers' rights. This regulation, applied in the EU since February 2005, defines passengers' rights in cases of denied boarding and cancellation or long delay of flights. Depending on the circumstances, it entitles passengers to care provided by the carrier (costs of snacks, meals, accommodation, etc) and to financial compensation of up to 600.

This regulation is nevertheless a champion of legal vagueness since it does not define the concepts of 'extraordinary circumstances', 'delay' or 'cancellation', fundamental to determine the extent of rights. A cancelled flight entitles passengers to financial compensation, unlike a delayed flight (leading airlines to describe as 'delayed' a flight that in fact has been cancelled). Compensation is not due, however, in cases of 'extraordinary circumstances' (prompting airlines to claim such circumstances frequently). Up until now, the Court of Justice has had to interpret these concepts, usually to the advantage of passengers.

As MEPs call for the inclusion of this case law in the revision, Europolitics finds it useful to present an overview of these judgements.

'Cancellation'

Case C-83/10 - judgement issued on 13 October 2011. This judgement interprets the concept of 'cancellation' and concludes that any damage - material or non-material - should be eligible for compensation under Regulation 261/2004. An Air France flight from Paris to Vigo, Spain, took off as scheduled but had to return to Paris due to a technical problem. The passengers were rebooked onto alternative flights the following day. The court ruled that this was indeed a cancellation: the fact that the flight took off changes nothing. The concept of 'cancellation', explained the court, also covers cases where an aircraft has taken off but for one reason or another is then obliged to return to the airport of origin where its passengers are transferred to other flights. The mere fact that the flight took off is insufficient to consider that it was not cancelled. The court also made a broad interpretation of the concept of 'compensation'. The EU regulation sets precise amounts for annulment but also states that it applies "without prejudice to a passenger's right to further compensation". The complainants in this case exercised this right to seek...

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