Compensation Clinic: British Court Of Appeals Rules That Connection Flights Are Subject To EC261 Regulation

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In a landmark ruling the British Court of Appeals in London has decided in a case against Emirates that airlines are indeed liable if they cause a passengers delay due to interruptions on connection flights outside the EU.

Several carriers have so far declined to pay mandated EU compensation when a passengers encountered a delay on a related connection flight outside the EU such as in this case with Manchester-Dubai-Bangkok.

The ruling will be a game changer as not only is there now a legal precedent that says airlines have to pay up when they cause passengers to misconnect or depart late from a foreign connection point ( as long as it’s all on one ticket of course) but customers are also able to retroactively claim EU Compensation if they encountered such an incident in previous years.

You can access the ruling on the Vlex database here or have a look on the court dockets pdf below:

Download (PDF, 211KB)

The matter was brought before the appellate court due to two rulings from the Liverpool County Court that came to different rulings on issues of the same nature, namely Emirates flights from the UK that departed late and missed their connection flights in Dubai (one party to Bangkok, another one to Sydney).

While one judge found in favor of the plaintiff on the case of the missed Sydney connection, causing Emirates to appeal (smug move!) another judge ruled that the passenger had no rights to compensation due to the missed connection flight. The passenger appealed that ruling.

The main arguments of Emirates to dismiss both cases (cited from court docket above):

  • The primary submission of Mr Tim Marland, for Emirates, is that the only relevant flights for the purpose of calculating any delay are the original flights out of EU airspace. Those are the only flights within the scope of Regulation 261. The connecting flights are not relevant unless they also fall within the scope of Regulation 261. …
  • In support of his primary submission, Mr Marland submits that the effect of delay occurs outside the EU. Furthermore, the Passengers’ interpretation depends on finding a causal link between the delay on flight 1 and the delay at the final destination. …

In fact it’s not uncommon that this is frequently the answer when passengers contact an airline to claim EC261/2004 compensation. There are always excuses to begin with but when you’re talking about airlines that have a lot of hub traffic outside the EU then you’re in for something if there ever are delays or other issues.

What did the court find in regard to the arguments brought forward by Emirates attorney and the general matter?

 

  • In my [Justice Arden] judgment, the answer to these appeals is clear under EU law. There are three points of EU law which together lead me to reject the primary case for Emirates. What counts is delay in reaching the final destination.
  • Regulation 261 applies to flights by non-Community carriers out of EU airspace even if flight 1 or flight 2 lands outside the EU. The necessary starting point here is that there is no requirement in Regulation 261 that they should land in the EU. Regulation 261 takes effect when the carrier is present in the EU and it imposes a contingent liability on the carrier at that point. The liability may never crystallise but if it does do so, it will crystallise outside the jurisdiction. It does not help Emirates to argue that the delay on flight 2 has to be caused by a delay on flight 1 within EU jurisdiction: that does not of itself show that the territoriality principle has been contravened. It follows that I would reject IATA’s submission that Regulation 261 cannot apply where the destination on flight 1 is outside the EU.

The court didn’t follow Emirates opinion that only the first (Ex EU) sector counts for compensation. In fact if anything goes wrong at the connection point the carrier can not absolve itself of the responsibility under EC261/2004 as so many airlines try.

You will now be able to refer to this court decision citing Case No: B2/2016/2856 & B2/2017/094 Court of Appeal, Royal Courts of Justice, London UK (12th October 2017).

It is possible to claim compensation for flights that are far in the past however the statue of limitations depends on each individual member state, there is no general rule under EC261/2004.

The time limits for bringing actions for compensation for flight cancellation under European Union law are determined in accordance with the rules of each Member State on the limitation of actions (the provisions of the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions are not relevant, because the compensation measure laid down by Regulation 261/2004 falls outside their scope, while remaining additional to the system for damages laid down by them).

Time limits can range between one and ten years depending where you are in the EU and that of course is a considerable issue. The best is always to start claiming as fast as possible.

Conclusion

It’s good that this decision has been handed down but if you happen to have a valid claim and the airline will still not pay up be prepared having to handle it by involving a regulator or an attorney. Most of the time the airline will eventually pay but often they try and sit it out as most passengers won’t go through the lengthy process.

In the end claiming EU Compensation can be rewarding especially when it’s about long haul flights where it’s a 600 Euro cash compensation per passenger. Keep in mind that less that only a very small amount of eligible passengers actually claim and get paid their compensation that they’re entitled to. Don’t feel bad for claiming it and especially stay on the case until you got paid!

 

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