Airlines Face Bosses' Bill for Delayed Travelers, EU Court Saysby
Employers can claim damages for staff delayed when on business
EU top court gives binding ruling on air carriers' duties
Employers of business travelers left in the lurch by delayed flights can claim compensation from airlines, the European Union’s top court said in another ruling beefing up passengers’ rights.
Air carriers can’t avoid paying for losses suffered by employers, the EU Court of Justice said in a binding judgment Wednesday, referring to the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that covers air travel. A group of airlines attacked the ruling.
“The concept of consumer” under the convention “may include persons who are not themselves carried and are therefore not passengers,” the Luxembourg-based EU court ruled. The convention “must be interpreted as being applicable not only to the damage suffered by a passenger, but also to the damage suffered by a person in its capacity as an employer.”
The case is the latest in a long line of rulings on airlines’ obligations when schedules aren’t met. The EU court has clarified in previous cases, involving carriers such as Deutsche Lufthansa AG and EasyJet Plc, that passengers who arrive “three hours or more after the scheduled arrival time” have a right to compensation, except in “extraordinary” circumstances. The court in a 2013 decision said the same applies in the case of connecting flights where passengers arrive at least three hours late at their final destination.
The ruling “opens a Pandora’s box and creates a new level of uncertainty despite all the problems we are already facing” with existing EU rules on passenger compensation, said Geert Sciot, a spokesman for the Association of European Airlines in Brussels.
“We urgently call for a revision” of the EU framework, he said. “This is once more an indication that we face a huge problem resulting in a lot of costs for airlines.”
The case Wednesday concerned AirBaltic AS and two Lithuanian security agents who arrived at their final destination more than 14 hours late, due to a delay on one of their connecting flights which made them miss the next connection. AirBaltic challenged orders by the local courts to pay the compensation, arguing that it is liable only to passengers who took the flight, and not employers.
The case was referred to the EU top tribunal by the Supreme Court of Lithuania in 2014. In its answers, the 28-nation EU’s highest court also clarified that the compensation airlines have to pay employers in such cases is capped and “cannot in any case exceed the cumulative amount of compensation that could be awarded to all of the passengers concerned if they were to bring proceedings individually.”