German Supreme Court decides on airline tariff: a non-refundable ticket remains non-refundable

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

The plaintiffs had booked tickets for a Lufthansa flight from Hamburg via Frankfurt to Miami and back from Los Angeles via Frankfurt to Hamburg. The ticket price was EUR 2.766,32 and according to the tariff, the ticket was non-refundable (except applicable taxes only). Because of a disease, the plaintiffs cancelled their tickets and claimed back the ticket price. Lufthansa only refunded taxes of EUR 133,56 each. The plaintiffs filed a law suit for the difference which was dismissed by the first instance court (AG Köln) and their appeal was dismissed as well.

By judgement of March 20, 2018, the German Civil Supreme Court (Federal Court/BGH) upheld this decision: an exclusion of cancellation could not be regarded an unreasonable disadvantage or unfair contract term  which would violate the principles of good faith. Ususally, if a tcket was cancelled this would not safe the air carrrier any money as almost all costs were related to the operation of the flight as such and would not depend on the transportation of a particular passenger. Only if the flight was fully booked and the carrier would have had to reject other passengers had the tickets not been cancelled there would be an additional acquisition. However, this would be difficult to determine and mostly depend on coincidence. Therefore, the tariff excluding cancellation against refund would reflect the typical situation and not be unreasonable. Furthermore, passengers could avoid the disadvantage by booking a flexible tariff or by buying a cancellation insurance.

Source: BGH press release no 59/2018 of March 20, 2018.

Case details: BGH judgement X ZR 25/17 of March 20, 2018

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