29 Sep Compensation for passengers in the event of cancellation or long delay: a present-day subject for the European Court
Birgit Bossen, Anja Bossen and Gudula Gräßmann travelled from Rome to Hamburg via Brussels on a flight operated by Brussels Airlines. As their flight arrived in Hamburg with a delay of 3 hours and 50 minutes after the originally planned arrival time, they brought an action before the Amtsgericht Hamburg claiming compensation on the basis of the EU regulation on compensation for airline passengers (Regulation No 261/2004).
That regulation, as interpreted by the Court of Justice, provides, inter alia, that in the event of a delay of three hours or more, passengers shall be entitled to compensation of €250 for flights of 1500 kilometers or less and €400 for flights of more than 1500 kilometers between two Member States.
In that context, the German court asked the Court if, in the case of a connecting flight, the total distance of the flight corresponds to the distance between the departure airport and the arrival airport (that is, in this case, 1326 km between Rome and Hamburg), or whether it must be calculated according to the distance actually covered (in this case, 1 656 km, namely 1173 km between Rome and Brussels and 483 km between Brussels and
Hamburg). The amount of compensation payable to the passengers concerned depended on the answer to that question.
By its judgment, the Court notes, first, that with regard to the right to compensation, the regulation makes no distinction as to whether the passengers concerned reach their final destination by means of a direct flight or an air journey with connecting flights. The Court concludes that in both cases the passengers must be treated equally when calculating the amount of compensation.
In that context, the Court observes that the different scales of compensation provided for in the regulation reflect the differences in the extent of the inconvenience suffered by the passengers from not having the opportunity to reorganize their travel arrangements freely and thereby avoid the loss of time resulting from the cancellation or long delay of their flight.
In that regard, the Court considers that the nature of the flight (direct flight or connecting flight) has no impact on the extent of the inconvenience suffered by the passengers.
Consequently, when determining the amount of compensation in the case of a connecting flight, only the radial distance (‘great circle’ distance) that a direct flight would cover between the departure airport and the arrival airport should be taken into consideration. The fact that the distance actually covered is, as a result of the connection, greater than the distance between the departure and arrival airports has no impact on the calculation of the compensation.
“In this particular case the Court emphasizes that there is no differentiation between direct and connecting flights. It is a popular argument of airlines to only discuss one part of the connecting flight, since this would avoid liability. However, at FlightClaimEU, we know better!” – Cees Werff, CEO.