Connecting flights. The Court of Justice rules on the right to compensation for the long delay suffered in the arrival of the second flight performed by a non-Community air carrier

On 11 July 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union held its judgment in Case C‑502/18, CS and Others v České aerolinie a.s., on the reference for a preliminary ruling from the Městský soud v Praze (Prague City Court, Czech Republic), regarding the interpretation of theRegulation No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. The request has been made in proceedings between eleven passengers and the Czech air carrier České aerolinie a.s. concerning its refusal to pay compensation to those passengers, when the arrival time of their connecting flights was subject to a long delay.

The passengers concerned made with České aerolinie a.s. a single reservation for flights connecting Prague to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi.The first of those connecting flights, operated by České aerolinie a.s. and connecting Prague and Abu Dhabi, arrived on time. The second flight, however, operated under a code-share agreement by the non-Community air carrier Etihad Airways and connecting Abu Dhabi and Bangkok, arrived 488 minutes late. Since the delay was of more than three hours, the passengers concerned may be entitled to compensation under Regulation No. 261/2004.

The passengers brought proceeding against České aerolinie a.s. seeking the compensation provided for by the Regulation. However, the airline claimed that it cannot be held responsible for the lateness of the flight connecting Abu Dhabi and Bangkok given that that flight was performed by another air carrier.

Seised of the matter, the Court of Justice stated that a flight with one or more connections which is the subject of a single reservation constitutes a whole for the purposes of the right of passengers to compensation provided for in Regulation No. 261/2004. Therefore, connecting flights of which the first flight was performed from an airport located in the territory of a Member State, in this case Prague, fall within the scope of that regulation even if the second of those connecting flights was performed by a non-Community carrier from and to a country which is not an EU Member State. Moreover, according to the Court, under the Regulation the obligation to pay compensation to passengers falls solely on the operating air carrier of the flight concerned. In the examined case, České aerolinie a.s. actually performed a flight under the contract of carriage entered into with the passengers concerned, it can be categorised as the operating air carrier.

Consequently, České aerolinie a.s. is liable to pay the compensation provided for in the regulation because of the long delay in the arrival of the connecting flight for Bangkok even though that long delay occurred in the flight connecting Abu Dhabi and Bangkok and is attributable to Etihad AirwaysČeské aerolinie a.s. has still the right to bring an action against Etihad Airways in order to obtain redress for the payment of compensation to the passengers.

Sara Capruzzi