EU Court Nixes Cash Demand by Slightly Diverted Air Travelers

Passengers failed to show they deserve more than a lift to the prebooked destination.

(Courthouse News photo/Barbara Leonard)

(CN) — Airline passengers in Europe whose flights are diverted to a nearby airport other than the one they were supposed to arrive in are not entitled to lump-sum compensation, Europe’s highest court ruled Thursday.

What the airlines are responsible for, the European Court of Justice said, is either directly transporting or paying to transport such passengers to their original airport destination or to another destination of a passenger’s choosing.

The high court’s ruling came in a case where an Austrian Airlines passenger was seeking a lump-sum compensation for having had his flight’s arrival from Vienna diverted from Berlin Tegel to Berlin Schönefeld, a nearby airport, due to delays caused by bad weather in May 2018.

The plaintiff, referred to in court documents only as WZ, found himself arriving about an hour later than scheduled and taking about 25 minutes longer to get home than if he had arrived at Berlin Tegel. Austrian Airlines did not offer to transport him to Berlin Tegel.

WZ later sued the airlines in German courts, claiming he was entitled to 250 euros (about $300) in compensation, as stipulated under European Union rules on how airlines should reimburse passengers for cancellations, long delays and other inconveniences.

Austrian Airlines rejected WZ’s claims, arguing he was delayed by only 58 minutes and that he had been able to return home without difficulty. Additionally, the airlines cited the bad weather as an extraordinary circumstance outside its control.

WZ’s initial claim was shot down by District Court of Schwechat, which found that delays of less than three hours do not need to be remunerated. He appealed to the Regional Court of Korneuburg, which in turn asked the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice for clarification on the EU’s rules regarding compensation in such cases.

On Thursday, the EU’s high court agreed with Austrian Airlines. It said that, as long as passengers are taken to a nearby airport, they are not eligible for flat-rate compensation as provided by EU rules, which allow for up to 600 euros (about $720) in reimbursement. In December, an advocate general for the high court issued an opinion with similar conclusions.

But the court said airlines are required to bear the cost of transferring passengers from the alternative airport of arrival to the original point of arrival or to another close-by destination where a passenger wants to go.

A copy of the opinion is not available in English, as of publication.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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