ECJ decides on compensation for denied boarding

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Court of Justice has ruled on the right to compensation for denied boarding. One case involved the airline trying to use the defence of "extraordinary circumstances" to avoid paying compensation and the other came about when the airline took it upon itself to cancel the boarding cards for a connecting flight.

The upshot of these decisions is that the obligations of an airline under Regulation (EC) 261/2004, namely the Denied Boarding Regulation, clearly extend to cases of overbooking and operational decisions made by the airline.

The case of Finnair v Lassooy followed a strike at Barcelona Airport in July 2006.  Finnair had to cancel a flight and to avoid excessive waiting times for passengers decided to reschedule later flights.  When Mr Lassooy presented for boarding as per his booking but this was denied, he did not arrive at Helsinki until much later than planned that day.  Even though the rescheduling came about as a result of strike action, the European Court ruled that the airline could not rely on the extraordinary circumstances defence to avoid paying compensation.  Mr Lassooy was denied boarding because of an operational decision of the airline and not as a direct result of strike action, which would usually satisfy the extraordinary circumstances defence. 

A further case concerned the Spanish airline Iberia and passengers who were to catch a connecting flight in Madrid.  Following a delay in the first leg of the flight the airline decided to cancel the boarding cards for the connection.  The seats were allocated to other passengers and the claimants did not reach their destination until some 27 hours later than planned.  The denial of boarding was solely caused by the airline's decision to cancel the boarding cards for the connecting flight.  It had either caused the initial delay on the first leg or was mistaken in thinking the passengers would not make the connection.  Either way, it could not get around the obligation to pay compensation and meet its obligations under the Denied Boarding Regulations. 

Consumers and the airline industry alike currently await the outcome of a referral to the ECJ as to whether a very long delay gives rise to the same obligations / rights as a cancellation under the Denied Boarding Regulations.  

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