Air transport. The Court of Justice rules on the right to compensation for passengers in the event of a delay or cancellation not only of the original reservation but also of the subsequent one

On 12 March 2020, the European Court of Justice held its judgment in Case C-832/18, A and Others v. Finnair Oyi, on the interpretation of Article 5 and Article 7 of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. The request has been made in proceedings between eight air passengers and the airline Finnair Oyj (“Finnair”) concerning a claim for compensation following the delay of a re-routing flight proposed by the latter.

Some passengers booked a direct flight from Helsinki to Singapore with Finnair scheduled on 11 October 2013, which was cancelled due to a technical defect. After accepting Finnair’s offer, the passengers were re-routed on the Helsinki-Singapore connecting flight via Chongqing (China), with a scheduled departure on 12 October and an expected arrival in Singapore on the following day. However, due to a malfunction, their re-routing was delayed and arrived in Singapore on 14 October 2013. Therefore, the passengers brought an action against Finnair seeking to have the airline ordered to pay them the sum of EUR 600 each on account of the cancellation of the original Helsinki-Singapore flight, and the sum of EUR 600 each on account of the delay of more than three hours in the arrival of the Helsinki-Chongqing-Singapore re-routing flight. Appealed by the applicants, the Helsingin hovioikeus (Court of Appeal of Helsinki; the “referring court”) stayed the pending proceeding and asked the Court of Justice two preliminary questions.

By its first question, the referring court asked whether an air passenger who has received compensation for the cancellation of a flight and has accepted the re-routing flight offered to him is entitled to compensation for the delay of the re-routing flight, where that delay is such as to give rise to entitlement to compensation and the air carrier of the re-routing flight is the same as that of the cancelled flight. The Court answered the question affirmatively, inasmuch as passengers who have been exposed to cancellations or long delays have suffered that inconvenience both in relation to the cancellation of their initially booked flight and subsequently as a result of the long delay of their re-routing flight. Consequently, granting those passengers a right to compensation for each of those successive inconveniences is in line with the objective of addressing them.

By its second question, the referring court asked whether, in order to be released from its obligation to pay compensation, an air carrier may rely on “extraordinary circumstances” arising from the failure of a so-called “on condition” part, that is to say, a part which is only replaced by a new part when it becomes defective, provided that it permanently stocks a spare part. According to the Court, the failure of a so-called “on condition” part, which the air carrier has prepared to replace by permanently stocking a spare part, constitutes an event which, by its nature or origin, is inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned. Therefore, technical shortcomings inherent in aircraft maintenance cannot constitute “extraordinary circumstances” since such a breakdown is, in principle, intrinsically linked to the operating system of the aircraft.

Marco Stillo