CJEU: no limitation of the air carriers’ obligation to provide care to passengers in case of volcanic eruption

In the event of cancellation of a flight, the air carrier is obliged, under Reg. 261/2004/EC, to provide care to passengers as well as to provide compensation. As regards the obligation to provide care, the air carrier must provide free of charge, in light of the waiting time, refreshments, meals and, where appropriate, hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and place of accommodation, as well as means of communication with third parties. The air carrier is obliged to fulfil that obligation even when the cancellation of the flight is caused by extraordinary circumstances, that is to say circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. The air carrier is, however, exempt from its obligation to provide compensation if it is able to prove that the cancellation of the flight was caused by such circumstances.Ms McDonagh was one of the passengers on the Faro to Dublin flight scheduled for 17 April 2010 which was cancelled following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland which resulted into the closure of airspace over a number of European Member States – including Ireland – between 15 and 22 April 2010. Flights between continental Europe and Ireland did not resume until 22 April 2010 and Ms McDonagh was not able to return to Dublin until 24 April 2010. During that period, Ryanair did not provide her with any care. Accordingly, she is of the opinion that that airline is obliged to pay her compensation of almost €1,130, corresponding to the costs of meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport incurred by her between 17 and 24 April 2010.The Dublin Metropolitan District Court (Ireland), the court before which the case was brought, has asked the Court of Justice whether the closure of airspace as a result of a volcanic eruption comes under the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’, obliging the air carrier to provide care to passengers, or whether, on the contrary, that situation comes under circumstances which go beyond ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and exempt the air carrier from its obligation to provide care to passengers. Furthermore, if the Court finds that such circumstances do come under the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’, it is also asked to rule on the question whether, in such a situation, the obligation to provide care must be subject to a temporal and/or a monetary limitation.In judgement C-12/11 (Denise McDonagh v Ryanair Ltd) of Jan. 31, 2013, the Court responded that EU law does not recognise a separate category of ‘particularly extraordinary’ events, beyond ‘extraordinary circumstances’, which would lead to the air carrier being exempted from all its obligations under the regulation. Therefore the Court held that circumstances such as the closure of part of European airspace as a result of a volcanic eruption such as that of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which do not release air carriers from their obligation to provide care.Next, the Court stated that the regulation does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances.Finally, the Court held that when an air carrier has failed to comply with its obligation to provide care to an air passenger, that passenger may only obtain, by way of compensation, reimbursement of the amounts which proved necessary, appropriate and reasonable to make up for the shortcomings of the air carrier, a matter which is for the national court to assess.Source: CJEU press release 8/13 of jan 31, 2013Find full text of CJEU judgment here>>.

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