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01 May 2013
The Landshut Regional Court recently overturned a judgment of the Erding Local Court, ruling that each segment of the flight in question had to be regarded separately for the purposes of determining the applicability of EU Regulation 261/2004. The court thereby confirmed the Federal Court of Justice's recent judgments (November 13 2012, X ZR 12/12 and X ZR 14/12).
The claimant booked a return flight from Munich, Germany to Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a scheduled stopover in another country outside the European Union. The flight from Munich to the stopover destination was scheduled to arrive at 6:30am. The scheduled departure time for the connecting flight from the stopover destination to Colombo was 7:45am.
The aircraft departed after a slight delay in Munich, so that the claimant arrived at the stopover destination 27 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. Due to the slight delay, the defendant's employees rebooked the claimant to a later connecting flight to Colombo, which was due to leave the stopover destination two hours after the connecting flight originally booked by the claimant. After a stopover in Male (Maldives), the claimant eventually arrived in Colombo four hours and 45 minutes later than originally planned.
The claimant thus claimed compensation pursuant to the regulation, asserting that he had been rebooked onto the later connecting flight against his will and that he could have reached the flight to Colombo originally booked despite the slight delay of the incoming flight from Munich. In this regard, the claimant pleaded that he had reached the departure gate for the flight originally booked at 7:32am. The defendant contended that the gate closed at 7.30am.
The Erding Local Court (June 21 2012, 5C 500/12) awarded the claimant €600, pursuant to Article 7(1)(c) of the regulation, plus interest, costs and pre-trial legal costs.
The local court held that further to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment in Sturgeon (C-402/07 and C-432/07), the claimant was entitled to compensation pursuant to the regulation for the delay of more than three hours on arrival in Colombo. With regard to the delay, the local court took the view that it makes no difference whether a passenger misses the connecting flight or whether a passenger is rebooked onto a later connecting flight. The final destination according to Article 2(h) of the regulation is the final destination of the last connecting flight. The court further held that it is not a precondition for a compensation claim that the departure delay be more than four hours in line with Article 6 of the regulation.
The defendant airline appealed the decision. The appeal court subsequently overturned the local court's decision (February 27 2013), ruling that the claimant did not have a compensation claim pursuant to Article 4(3) and Article 7(1)(c) of the regulation.
According to the regional court's decision, the delay on departure in this case was irrelevant. Instead, the court followed the defendant's pleading that the regulation in fact was not applicable to the flight segment from the stopover destination to Colombo.
In its reasoning the court referred to a recent decision of the Federal Court of Justice (November 13 2012, MDR 2013, 137), which held that in case of a flight journey which consists of two or more flight segments, each offered by a certain airline, the applicability of the regulation must be examined separately for each flight segment. This is also the case where such flights are operated by the same airline and where connecting flights are booked together.
The regional court referred to the ruling of the federal court, which was based on the federal court's definition of the term 'flight' within the meaning of the regulation. The regional court went on to say that the federal court considered Article 3(1) of the regulation, which stipulates that it applies to passengers who commence their journey by air from an airport within the EU territory or – if the air carrier is an EU air carrier – depart from a third country airport to an airport within the EU territory. In this regard, the federal court took the view that the regulation refers to passengers as a collective whose members have certain rights if the regulation is applicable to the flight in question, and which are independent of whether the passenger booked a ticket for just one flight or also for the flight before or after the flight in question, and which air carrier operated those flights.
The regional court held that the federal court's ruling was applicable to this case. The flights from Munich to the stopover destination and from the stopover destination to Colombo therefore had to be considered separately with regard to the application of the regulation. As a result, the asserted denied boarding pursuant to Article 4(3) of the regulation happened only in relation to the leg of the journey from the stopover destination to Colombo.
The regional court further held that it was irrelevant whether the claimant had booked the various segments of the journey himself or whether he had merely entered the final destination and the defendant had issued the route via the stopover destination. In the court's view, the determination of the applicability of the regulation is dependent only on objective factors: whether a flight departs from an airport within the EU territory or whether an EU air carrier flies into an airport within the EU territory. It will not be considered on whose initiative the segmentation of flights from one place to another was conducted. Even where the flights are booked together, they must be regarded separately.
It thus follows that any denied boarding would have taken place at the stopover destination. However, the regulation did not apply to the segment from the stopover destination to Colombo.
The regional court made clear that potential damage claims by the claimant against the defendant would not be affected by the judgment. However, the three appeal judges did not allow a further appeal.
This judgment confirms the Federal Court of Justice rulings (November 13 2013) that all flight segments of a journey by air must be regarded separately for the purposes of applying the regulation, despite the decision in Air France v Folkerts (C-11/11). This judgment is thus valuable for third country (non-EU) air carriers which offer flights from EU countries via a hub outside the European Union to the rest of the world.
The 'segmentation' of flights is also the logical continuation of the ECJ ruling in Emirates v Schenkel (C-173/07). In Emirates v Schenkel the ECJ held that outbound and return journeys must be considered separately and cannot be regarded as one flight with regard to the regulation. The judgment is in line with previous Federal Court judgments (Xa ZR 113/08).
Third-country airlines should therefore treat each segment of a passenger's journey separately when determining the applicability of the regulation as part of their claims handling. As a result, connecting flights which third-country air carriers operate outside of the European Union should not fall within the scope of Article 3.
For further information on this topic please contact Katharina Sarah Meigel or Ulrich Steppler at Arnecke Siebold Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0), fax (+49 69 97 98 85 85) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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