(CN) - EU member states must have an authority to guarantee air passengers' rights but aren't required to go after airlines that refuse to compensate wronged passengers, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
Under EU law, airlines are required to care for and compensate passengers for canceled flights. The amount of compensation varies depending on distance, but ranges between $283 and $679 per passenger.
The law also requires member states to have an authority responsible for taking passengers' complaints and enforcing their rights generally. In the Netherlands, that responsibility falls on the Secretary of State.
Three Dutch passengers lodged their complaints with the secretary, who ordered the airlines in question to compensate the passengers for canceled flights. After the airlines refused, the passengers asked the secretary to intervene and sue the airlines on their behalf.
But after the secretary declined, the passengers sued the secretary - prompting the Dutch court to ask the European Court of Justice whether the secretary even has the authority to bring enforcement actions on behalf of individuals.
In a 4-page preliminary ruling issued Thursday, the EU high court held that while member states' authorities are required to take passengers' complaints and demand compensation from the airlines on their behalf, member states aren't required to give their authorities the power to pursue airlines that refuse.
Member states can allocate that kind of power to their authorities if they desire, the Luxembourg-based court said, but nothing under EU law requires them to do so.