Air transport. The Court of Justice rules on the nature and basis of the right to compensation in the event of a flight’s cancellation

On 29 February 2024, the Court of Justice handed down its judgment in C‑11/23, Eventmedia Soluciones SL v Air Europa Líneas Aéreas SAU, on the interpretation of Article 5(1)(c), Article 5(3), Article 7(1) and Article 15 of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 as well as Article 6(1) and Article 7(1) of Directive 93/13/EEC. The request has been made in proceedings between Eventmedia Soluciones SL (“Eventmedia”), to whom the claims of six air passengers have been transferred, and Air Europa Líneas Aéreas SAU (“Air Europa”) concerning compensation for the cancellation of a flight.

Six air passengers affected by the cancellation of a flight from the Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz to Madrid, scheduled for 24 March 2022, transferred their compensation claims against Air Europa to Eventmedia, which brought proceedings before the Juzgado de lo Mercantil no 1 de Palma de Mallorca (Commercial Court No 1, Palma de Mallorca, Spain; the “referring court”) seeking compensation of EUR 600 for each of those passengers. In light of the need to interpret the relevant European legislation, therefore, the referring court decided to stay the proceedings and to refer to the Court of Justice two questions for a preliminary ruling.

By the second question, the referring court asked whether Article 5(1)(c) and Article 5(3) of Regulation No 261/2004, read in conjunction with Article 7(1) thereof, are to be interpreted as meaning that, in the event of cancellation of a flight, the right of passengers to obtain the compensation referred to in those provisions from the operating air carrier, and its corresponding obligation to pay such compensation, arise from that regulation, or as meaning that the basis for that right and that obligation is any contract that may have been concluded between the carrier and the air passenger concerned, or even the wrongful failure by that carrier to perform such a contract.

According to the Court, the right to standardised compensation, calculated on a flat-rate basis and payable by the operating air carrier, is among the essential rights conferred on passengers by Regulation No 261/2004. Therefore, such right, and the related payment obligation pending on the air carrier, cannot be regarded as having their basis in any contract that might have been concluded between the latter and the passenger concerned or, a fortiori, in a wrongful failure by that air carrier to perform such a contract.

By the first question, instead, the referring court asked whether Article 15 of Regulation No 261/2004 is to be interpreted as precluding the inclusion, in a contract of carriage, of a clause that prohibits the transfer of rights enjoyed by passengers against the operating air carrier by virtue of the provisions of that regulation.

According to the Court, the operating air carrier’s obligation to pay the compensation provided for by Regulation No 261/2004 in the event of cancellation of a flight may not be limited or waived by contract, and therefore not only the derogations included in a contract of carriage, but also those contained in other documents drawn up unilaterally by the operating air carrier, and on which the latter seeks to rely against the passengers concerned, must be considered to be inadmissible.

Marco Stillo