EU Magistrate: No Money Back for Flights Rerouted to Nearby Airport

An Austrian Airlines jet. (Photo by ramboldheiner from Pixabay)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Airlines don’t have to pay passengers for a short travel delay caused by planes landing at another airport in the same destination city, an adviser to the EU’s top court said Thursday.

European Court of Justice Advocate General Priit Pikamäe found that an Austrian Airlines passenger whose flight was diverted from one Berlin airport to another is not entitled for damages under the European Union’s flight compensation regulations. 

“The fact that a flight lands at an airport which is not that for which the booking is made, but which serves the same town, city or region, does not amount in itself to a situation causing passengers inconvenience as serious as that caused by cancellation,” Pikamäe wrote.

While opinions from the Luxembourg-based court’s magistrates are nonbinding, final rulings follow the same legal reasoning in about 80% of cases. 

Under the EU’s Regulation on Air Passenger Rights, travelers whose flights are canceled or delayed by more than three hours are eligible for financial compensation.

The regulation “aims to ensure a high level of protection for passengers and consumers, by strengthening their rights in a number of situations involving serious trouble and inconvenience, such as denied boarding, cancellation and long delay, and also redressing those situations in a standardized and immediate manner,” the magistrate wrote. 

The passenger in Thursday’s case, identified as W. Z. in court documents, was flying from Vienna, Austria, to Berlin, Germany, in 2018. Bad weather earlier in the day had caused a delay in flights leaving Vienna, including W.Z.’s.

As a result, it was three minutes too late to land at Berlin-Tegel airport before the airport closed and was redirected to Berlin-Schönefeld airport. The flight was scheduled to land at 10:20 p.m. local time but actually landed at 11:18 p.m.

W.Z. lived only 15 minutes from Berlin-Tegel airport but 41 minutes from Berlin-Schönefeld airport. He requested 250 euros ($300) in compensation from Austrian Airlines, arguing that his flight was effectively canceled because it didn’t land at the correct airport. He also complained that the airline did not offer passengers transportation from Berlin-Schönefeld airport to Berlin-Tegel airport. 

Austrian Airlines denied the request, arguing that the delay was less than an hour and W. Z. was able to travel home without an issue. It further claimed the delay was due to bad weather, which is beyond the control of the airline and doesn’t make passengers eligible for compensation.

Pikamäe agreed with the airline in his advisory opinion.  

“A right to compensation would arise only if, as a result of the diversion, the passenger was delayed by three hours or more in reaching the airport for which the booking was made, or the other close-by destination agreed with the air carrier,” he wrote.  

But it wasn’t a total win for Austrian Air. Pikamäe agreed with W. Z. that the airline was responsible for providing ground transportation if a flight is diverted. 

“The need for an offer of assistance from the air carrier reflects the requirement for protection of the passenger/consumer inasmuch as, having been ‘stranded’ …  in an airport which is not that of final destination, that passenger/consumer is in a weak position by comparison with the air carrier established in that airport,” Pikamäe found. 

A final ruling in the case is expected next year. 

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