(CN) – Hours-long flight delays because of blizzards or plane mechanical problems are going to start costing European airlines if the EU high court adopts its magistrate’s opinion.
EU law mandates that airlines compensate passengers for cancellations and delays of longer than three hours, in amounts ranging from about $312 to $750. However, several airlines – Lufthansa, British Airways and easyJet – and the International Air Transport Association have been fighting aviation authorities for refusing to interpret the law in such a way that the carriers are not required to compensate passengers for delays.
EU Court of Justice Advocate General Yves Bot took the airlines to task for continuing their refusal to compensate passengers for delays.
“The Court has already had the opportunity to consider whether an air carrier was required … to pay compensation to passengers whose flights had been delayed. In its judgment in Sturgeon and Others, it held that those articles must be interpreted as meaning that passengers whose flights are delayed may be treated, for the purposes of the application of the right to compensation, as passengers whose flights are cancelled and they may thus rely on the right to compensation laid down in [the law] where they suffer, on account of a flight delay, a loss of time equal to or in excess of three hours, that is, where they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier.
“However, the disputes in the main proceedings show that air carriers refuse to apply that judgment and to compensate passengers finding themselves in such situations,” Bot wrote.
Bot also rejected arguments that the law doesn’t lay down any obligation to compensate passengers for delays and that its ruling in Sturgeon was in error.
“As to the actual principle of compensation of air passengers whose flight has been delayed by at least three hours, since nothing new which might call into question the interpretation that the Court gave of those provisions in Sturgeon and Others has been presented by the parties to the disputes in the main proceedings, I do not see why the Court should reconsider that interpretation,” he wrote.
Bot said the point of the law is “to ensure a high level of protection for air passengers regardless of whether they are denied boarding or whether their flight is cancelled or delayed, since they are all caused similar serious trouble and inconvenience connected with air transport.”
“The Court stated … that that regulation has the objective of repairing, inter alia, damage consisting, for the passengers concerned, in a loss of time which given that it is irreversible can be redressed only by compensation. It concluded that passengers whose flights have been cancelled and passengers affected by a flight delay suffer similar damage, consisting in a loss of time, and thus find themselves in comparable situations for the purposes of the application of the right to compensation laid down in [the law],” Bot wrote.
The law also conforms to the Montreal Convention, a 1999 pact which requires that both passengers and carriers should know exactly the extent of their respective rights and obligations, according to the advocate general.
Bot’s opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which will hear arguments on the case at a later date.