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27 May 2009
Federal Court of Justice Decision
The Federal Court of Justice has ruled again on the scope of application of the EU Denied Boarding Regulation (261/2004) regarding compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of a missed connecting flight. On April 30 2009 the court dealt with the question of whether a passenger who has missed his or her connecting flight due to an earlier delayed flight may claim compensation from the operating air carrier under the regulation.
The passenger had booked a flight from Frankfurt to Bogota via Paris. The flight from Frankfurt was scheduled to depart Frankfurt at 7:25am and arrive in Paris at 8:45am. In Frankfurt, the passenger was given his boarding pass for the flight to Paris only. Due to foggy weather conditions and crowded air space over Paris, the flight was delayed for one hour. When the passenger arrived at the check-in counter in Paris, the gate to the connecting flight to Bogota had already closed for the flight's on-time departure at 10:35am. The operating air carrier offered the passenger a flight to Bogota the following day.
The passenger considered himself entitled to compensation according to the stipulations of the EU Denied Boarding Regulation. Subject to Articles 4(3) and 7(1)(c), the regulation grants a passenger the right to €600 compensation when the operating air carrier denies the passenger boarding against his or her will.
The airline argued that Article 7 was not applicable in this case since the flight booked by the passenger had been delayed and a delay does not entitle a passenger to compensation according to Article 7(1)(c) of the regulation.
The court of first instance denied the passenger's claim, arguing that the requirements of Article 7(1)(c) had not been fulfilled. The court of appeal upheld the ruling.
Federal Court of Justice Decision
The Federal Court of Justice confirmed the earlier rulings and held that the EU Denied Boarding Regulation grants no compensation to passengers in case of a missed connecting flight due to a delayed earlier flight.
Article 2(j) of the regulation defines 'denied boarding' as a refusal to carry passengers on a flight despite them having presented themselves for boarding under the conditions set out in Article 3(2), except where there are reasonable grounds to deny boarding (ie, reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation).
According to the court, a compensation claim for denied boarding according to the regulation may be made only under the following conditions:
The court clearly states that such requirements are not fulfilled if the passenger arrives at check-in late due to a previous delayed flight. A passenger who is not physically present at the stipulated check-in time cannot be denied boarding for factual reasons.
The decision did not consider the question of whether a passenger may claim damages from the air carrier due to breach of contract.
Due to the clear-cut nature of its decision, the court did not consider a preliminary ruling of the European Court of Justice to be necessary.
This decision is in line with recent rulings of the Federal Court of Justice and the European Court of Justice sharpening and defining the scope of application of the regulation. This has been necessary due to its misleading wording and structure, which left it subject to interpretations outside its original aim.
Furthermore, the decision helps to clarify the relationship between operating air carriers and passengers, in particular by distinguishing between instances of denied boarding and cases where a passenger has arrived to check in for a flight after the gate has closed due to a previous delayed flight.
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