Delta Ducks Liability to Delayed U.S. Passengers

     CHICAGO (CN) – An EU law that requires airlines to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed does not affect Delta Airlines in the United States, a federal judge ruled.
     Illinois residents Gennaldiy Volodarskiy, Oxana Volodarskaya and their children were scheduled on a flight from London to Chicago in August 2009, but their Delta Airlines flight ended up being delayed in London for over eight hours.
     In a federal class action, the family claimed that they are entitled to compensation for the delay under a European Union regulation, EU 261, which provides that passengers must be compensated for canceled flights as long as the cancelation did not stem from extraordinary circumstances.
     If a flight is at least three hours late, passengers are entitled to up to 600 euros, according to a judgment recently entered by the Court of Justice for the European Union.
     However, the Volodarskiy’s claim did not fair well in an American court.
     Though the Illinois passengers claimed that Delta’s International Conditions of Carriage incorporate EU 261 by reference, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang disagreed that the contract explicitly adopted the law or its compensation requirements.
     “It is one thing for a law to trump a contract’s contrary terms; it is quite another to consider the law as incorporated into the contract as if the law were itself one of the contract’s terms (instead of merely prevailing over a conflicting term),” Chang wrote. “To hold otherwise would equate a violation of a statute or regulation into a breach of contract, in addition to a violation of the law itself. It is true that a contract can state that a law’s provisions are incorporated into the contract itself, as some courts have found as to other airlines’ contracts, so violations of the law can be pursued as what they are – violation of the law – but not as a breach of contract.” (Italics and parentheses in original.)
     The passengers also failed to show that an EU Notice posted on Delta’s website notifying passengers of their rights in event of a delay should be included by inference as part of Delta’s flight-services contract.
     A separate contract clause that mandates compensating passengers for “an involuntary denial of boarding” does not apply either, according to the ruling.
     “It is clear from Rule 87 that an ‘involuntary denial of boarding’ does not encompass situations where passengers are simply denied boarding at the original scheduled time of departure,” Chang wrote. “Rather, the term only contemplates situations in which Delta has oversold a flight and the ticket holder is unable to board the flight at all. Unlike passengers whose flights are delayed, passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding are simply left behind, even though their flights take off. Because someone is only ‘involuntarily denied boarding’ when a flight is oversold, Rule 87 does not apply to cancellations or delays. Accordingly, Rule 87 does not express a clear intent to incorporate EU 261.”

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