Travelers become more and more familiar with their rights as stipulated by Regulation 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. A “long delay” means that passengers have a right to compensation starting once the airplane is delayed by three hours. Passengers simply have to fill in a special complaint form. Alternatively, various claims handlers operate in the sector.
Air carriers are, however, relieved of their obligations if the respective cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken (see Art. 5 (3) regulation). This provision continuously leads to court cases. In an order the Court of Justice of the European Union clarified another matter in this context on 14 November 2014. The reason for the delay of the airplane in the case at hand was that a set of mobile boarding stairs had collided with the aircraft, causing structural damage to a wing, as a consequence of which the aircraft had to be replaced.
Whereas it is established case-law of the Court that technical problems may be regarded as ‘extraordinary circumstances’, provided that they stem from an event which, owing to its nature or origin, is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier and is beyond its actual control (Case C-549/07 Wallentin-Hermann), the situation at hand judged to be of a different nature. Mobile stairs or gangways can be regarded as indispensable to air passenger transport and, therefore, air carriers are regularly faced with situations arising from the use of such equipment. A collision between an aircraft and a set of mobile boarding stairs is, hence, an event inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier. As a consequence, the air carrier was not relieved of its payment obligation.
Rightly, by issuing an order and not a judgment the Court signals that this outcome is undisputed.
Please find the full text of the order here.