Air transport. The Court of Justice rules on the compensation for a passenger who autonomously books a replacement flight

On 25 January 2024, the Court of Justice handed down its judgment in Case C‑54/23, Laudamotion and Ryanair, on the interpretation of Articles 3 and 5 to 7 of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. The request has been made in proceedings between, on the one hand, WY, an air passenger, and, on the other hand, Laudamotion GmbH (“Laudamotion”) and Ryanair DAC (“Ryanair”) concerning the latter’s refusal to compensate WY for the delayed arrival of a flight for which he had a confirmed reservation.

WY booked a return flight with Ryanair from Düsseldorf to Palma de Mallorca, scheduled for 31 October 2019. After being informed by Laudamotion, which was the operating air carrier, that the departure of the outbound flight would be delayed by six hours, WY booked by himself an alternative flight owing to which he ultimately arrived at his destination with a delay of less than three hours after the scheduled arrival time of the original flight. WY, therefore, claimed compensation from Laudamotion according to Regulation No 261/2004. Since, however, his claim was dismissed both at first instance and on appeal, WY lodged an appeal on a point of law with the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice; the “referring court”) which, in light of the need to interpret the relevant European legislation, decided to stay the proceedings and to refer to the Court of Justice two questions a preliminary ruling.

By the first question, the referring court asked whether Article 5(1) and Article 7(1) of Regulation No 261/2004 must be interpreted as meaning that the right to compensation, within the meaning of those provisions, may be enjoyed by an air passenger who, on account of a risk of a long delay in arrival at the final destination of the flight on which he has a confirmed reservation, or even on account of sufficient evidence of such a delay, has himself booked an alternative flight and has reached the final destination with a delay of less than three hours after the originally scheduled arrival time of the first flight.

According to the Court, passengers whose flights are delayed may be treated, for the purposes of Regulation No 261/2004’s right to compensation, as those whose flights are cancelled where they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier. Passengers of such flights indeed, like those whose original flights have been cancelled, suffer an irreversible loss of time and, hence, a comparable inconvenience.Therefore, a passenger who did not take a flight for which he had a confirmed reservation and who, owing to an alternative flight which he booked independently, arrived at the final destination with a delay of less than three hours after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier has not suffered such a loss of time, and thus cannot benefit from that right to compensation.

In the light of the answer given to the first question, the Court deemed it unnecessary to examine the second one, by which the referring court asked whether the right to compensation for a flight delay of at least three hours under Articles 5, 6 and 7 of Regulation No 261/2004 requires the passenger to present himself for check-in in due time under Article 3(2)(a) of that regulation.

Marco Stillo