The European Court of Justice has ruled on the quantification of the ticket refund in case of a flight cancellation

On 12 September 2018 the Court of Justice of the European Union handed down its judgment in Case C-601/17, D.M. and Others v Vueling Airlines SA. The request for a preliminary ruling has been made in the context of a dispute in front of the Amtsgericht Hamburg (Local Court, Hamburg, Germany), between D.H., a German citizen, andVueling Airlines SA(Vueling), a Spanish low-cost airline.

Mr. D.H. bought, at the price of 1,108.88 euro, flight tickets valid from Berlin to Faro (Portugal) for him and his family on the website, an online ticket seller. The overall price of the ticket paid to the website was 1,088.88 euro, but the actual cost for the tickets was 1,031.88 euro, while 77 euro were collected as a commission by the booking site. As the flight was cancelled, the German citizen asked the airline for a refund pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. Following the request, Vueling agreed to reimburse the amount of 1,031.88 euro, asserting that the remaining 77 euro were not part of the tickets price. Mr. D.H. eventually filed a lawsuit before the referring court.

The preliminary ruling of the Court revolves around the interpretation of Article 8, paragraph 1, letter a), of Regulation (EC). 261/2004 which sets out that, in case of cancellation, passengers shall be offered, among other choices, the chance of “reimbursement within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought”. With its judgment the Court has tried to strike a balance between the interests of passengers and those of air carriers. In the light of those objectives, the Court has considered that, while a commission collected by an intermediary from a passenger when a ticket was bought must, in principle, be regarded as a component of the price to be reimbursed to that passenger in the event of cancellation of the corresponding flight, its inclusion must nevertheless be subject to certain limits, in view of the interests of the air carriers it affects. Therefore, the Court of Justice has stated that:

“Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91, and in particular Article 8(1)(a) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the price of the ticket to be taken into consideration for the purposes of determining the reimbursement owed by the air carrier to a passenger in the event of cancellation of a flight includes the difference between the amount paid by that passenger and the amount received by the air carrier, which corresponds to a commission collected by a person acting as an intermediary between those two parties, unless that commission was set without the knowledge of the air carrier, which it is for the referring court to ascertain”.


Davide Scavuzzo