German Airline Must Pay for Delays Caused by Strike

(CN) – The European Union Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that German airline TUIfly must compensate passengers for flight cancellations or delays caused by striking workers because the spontaneous strike at issue was caused by its own decision to restructure.

In September 2016, TUIfly management announced a restructuring of the company that led to most of the flight staff abruptly using a week of sick days, which is described as a “wildcat strike” in court records.

The spontaneous strike caused many flights to be cancelled or delayed for three hours or more. EU regulations on passenger rights call for compensation for flight cancellations or long delays.

TUIfly took the position that the strike was an “extraordinary circumstance” that meant the regulations did not apply to the situation, and it refused to pay the affected passengers.

Legal claims were brought against the airline in German courts, which asked the EU Court of Justice whether the strike did in fact constitute an extraordinary circumstance.

On Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based EU high court ruled against TUIfly, finding that a wildcat strike does not release the airline from its obligations under passenger-rights regulations.

According to the ruling, the relevant regulations define an extraordinary circumstance as a situation that is not part of the normal activity of the airline and one that is beyond its control.

The court noted that restructuring and reorganizing are part of normal business activities and the strike at issue was not beyond TUIfly’s control because it stemmed from the company’s decision and it was resolved a week later through an agreement with staff representatives.

“It is apparent from the file submitted to the Court that the ‘wildcat strike’ among the staff of the air carrier concerned has its origins in the carrier’s surprise announcement of a corporate restructuring process,” the 11-page ruling states.

The Court of Justice also found that the type of a strike – whether it is a spontaneous wildcat strike or one formally initiated by a union – is irrelevant in regards to the regulations on passenger compensation.

“The spontaneous absence of a significant part of the flight crew staff…which stems from the surprise announcement by an operating air carrier of a restructuring of the undertaking, following a call echoed not by the staff representatives of the company but spontaneously by the workers themselves who placed themselves on sick leave, is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision,” the opinion states.

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