Thursday, 31 January 2013

Whatever happens, air passengers need to be cared for - CJEU judgment in McDonagh (C-12/11)

This morning, the Court of Justice of the EU delivered its judgment in the McDonagh case, which concerned air carriers' obligations to take care of passengers whose flights were cancelled as a consequence of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010. In line with Advocate-General Bot's opinion in the case (on which we reported earlier), the Court finds the following, as summarised in the press release regarding the judgment:

'EU law does not recognise a separate category of "particularly extraordinary" events, beyond "extraordinary circumstances", which would lead to the air carrier being exempted from all its obligations under the regulation, including those to provide care. If circumstances such as those at issue in the present case went beyond, due to their origin and scale, the scope of "extraordinary circumstances", it would in fact mean that air carriers would be required to provide the care referred to in the regulation only to air passengers who find themselves, due to cancellation of a flight, in a situation causing limited inconvenience. On the other hand, passengers who find themselves in a particularly vulnerable state in that they are forced to remain at an airport for several days would be denied that protection.'

Furthermore, 'the regulation does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances. Thus, all the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing.'

Finally, 'while the obligation to provide care entails financial consequences for air carriers, they cannot be considered disproportionate to the aim of ensuring a high level of protection for passengers.'

In general this ruling seems to be of a quite consumer-friendly nature, taking into consideration the interests and needs of passengers who experience delays and 'involuntary rerouting' because of volcano eruptions, snowfall or other extraordinary circumstances. However, given the fact that air carriers may pass on the costs incurred as a result of the obligation to take care of stranded passengers to airline ticket prices, it remains to be seen how air passengers will eventually appreciate the consequences of this judgment (as Joasia also pointed out in her earlier comment on the A-G's opinion on this blog).

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