EU Courts Rule on Passenger Care Law


Passengers in Europe were handed a major victory this week related to accommodation in the case of severe weather. The rules in Europe, known as EC261/2004, are already some of the most generous in the world, mandating specific compensation levels for passengers in cases of flight delays or cancellations. The airlines have oft argued that certain major events should be considered above and beyond ordinary circumstances and therefore excluded from the mandatory payments to passengers. Once again, the airlines have lost when such a claim was taken to trial.

The case in question involved a traveler displaced by the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. At that time much of the airspace over Europe was closed, preventing airlines from operating flights. A passenger filed a claim against Ryanair at the time, listing approximately $1500 in costs associated with food and lodging while waiting for their eventual travel home. Despite Ryanair’s claim that the volcanic eruption was more than they should be required to account for in their operations, the Court held them responsible.

As part of their ruling the Court specifically addressed the suggestion that the extraordinary situation is one of the main reasons the rule exists, "The provision of care to passengers is particularly important in the case of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which persist over a long time and it is precisely in situations where the waiting period occasioned by the cancellation of a flight is particularly lengthy that it is is necessary to ensure that an air passenger can have access to essential goods and services throughout that period."

This ruling essentially makes airlines in the EU insurance providers for travelers, providers who are not able to separately invoice passengers for such coverage and who cannot use "acts of god" as an exclusionary rider. Many travel insurance companies bowed out of providing coverage for their customers in 2010 using just that excuse. The coverage only covers actual costs for lodging and meals, not additional compensation for a delayed arrival, but it still can add significant costs to airlines’ bottom line.

While Ryanair has expressed displeasure with the ruling, suggesting that it will "materially increase the cost of flying across Europe and consumer airfares will increase as airlines will be obliged to recover the cost of these claims from their customers" it does appear that they will comply with the Court’s ruling and pay the claim.

Photo credit: Ryanair via Shutterstock