Last Thursday AG Saugmandsgaard Øe issued an opinion in the Primera Air Scandinavia case (C-215/18 - English text is not available), interpreting provisions of Regulation No 261/2004 on air passenger rights and of Regulation No 44/2001, that is Brussels I, on jurisdiction. The passenger, domiciled in Prague (Czech Republic), was flying with Primera Air Scandinavia airlines between Prague and Keflavik (Iceland). She purchased the tickets for this flight at a Czech travel agency. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for more than 4 hours, thus she has claimed compensation on the basis of Article 7 Regulation 261/2004 (as it was interpreted in the Sturgeon case, i.e. as applicable to long delays, too). The airline refused to pay the compensation claiming extraordinary circumstances. The passenger decided to go to court with her claim, but the Czech courts had doubts as to their jurisdiction due to the uncertainty as to which, if any, provisions of Brussels I Regulation could apply in this case.
The issues in this case pertained to:
1. whether the passenger had a contractual relationship with the air carrier in the meaning of Art. 5(1) Brussels I Regulation, as her flight was part of a package travel contract concluded with a travel agency;
2. whether the legal relationship between the passenger and the air carrier was a B2C relationship;
3. whether the air carrier had a locus standi as a defendant in a case raised on the basis of Regulation No 261/2004, even if the passenger concluded a package travel contract falling under the scope of Directive 90/314?
Legal relationship between passenger and air carrier
As Art. 5(1) Brussels I Regulation introduced special jurisdiction rules for disputes based on contractual claims, the Court was asked to elaborate on whether there was a contractual relationship between the passenger and the air carrier. After all, the passenger concluded a contract with the travel agency instead, for a package travel contract encompassing the contested flight. AG Saugmandsgaard Øe recalls that in the judgment in joined cases flightright (C-274/16, C-447/16 and C-448/16) the Court has already decided that claims from Regulation No 261/2004 may be raised as contractual claims against an operating air carrier, even if the passenger purchased the flight ticket from another air carrier (para. 30). The core of Art. 5(1) Brussels I Regulation is seen applying special jurisdiction rules when there was a case of a voluntary acceptance of a legal obligation of one party towards another party (rather than recognition of their role as contractual parties) (para. 31). AG Saugmandsgaard Øe decides that in the given case the same reasoning should apply (para. 34-35), as the operating air carrier voluntarily decided to perform the obligations towards the passenger that under the concluded package travel contract belonged to the travel agency (and their agents). As the air carrier chose to perform the flight between Czech Republic and Iceland, they should have been aware that they will be performing services in these two countries, and thus could face legal claims in courts of one of them (para. 37).
Is this a consumer relationship?
Art. 16 Brussels I Regulation provides for further special jurisdiction rules for B2C contracts. In order for these rules to apply, requirements from Art. 15(1) Brussels I Regulation need to be fulfilled, that is: a consumer status of one party; conclusion of a B2C contract; the B2C contract needs to qualify as a contract defined in this provision (para. 42). Transportation contracts are generally excluded from the scope of this provision, except for package travel contracts (Art. 15(3) Brussels I Regulation). Here, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe sees the difference in case the passenger makes a claim against the travel agency (Art. 16 Brussels I Regulation applies) or the operating air carrier (it does not apply) (para. 45 and ). The literal interpretation of this provision draws attention to the fact that here the role of a defendant as a contractual party is vital to determine the applicability of special jurisdiction rules (para. 48). Only by contracting with consumers, the air carrier could predict in which country he could be sued by their passengers if things went wrong and legal certainty and predictability would be guaranteed (para. 57). Therefore, Art. 16 Brussels I Regulation should be strictly interpreted here.
Can the operating air carrier be sued when a passenger purchased a package travel?
In the recent Aegean Airlines (C-163/18) case the Court decided that the passenger could not claim reimbursement of a flight ticket from the operating air carrier for a cancelled flight, when the flight and the whole package travel contract was cancelled as a result of the travel organiser's insolvency. This is because it is the Package Travel Directive that provides insolvency protection as well as because Art. 8(2) Regulation 261/2004 clearly excludes a possibility of passengers to make such a claim (para. 68). This exclusion is not provided in Art. 6 and 7 Regulation 261/2004 which regulate compensation for a delayed flight. Thus a passenger travelling on a basis of a package travel contract could claim fixed compensation amount for a delayed flight from an operating air carrier pursuant to Regulation No 261/2004 and individualised compensation on the basis of PTD from a package travel organiser (para. 70).