ECJ reconfirms “Sturgeon” decision

In today’s judgement in joined cases C-581/10 – Nelson and C-629/10 TUI Travel Plc, the ECJ has reconfirmed its much disputed Sturgeon decision extending the claim for fixed compensation (which Reg. 261/2004 explictily only provides for passengers whose flight was cancelled) to passengers of delayed flights who reach their final destination with a delay of 3hrs or more.The Amtsgericht Köln (Local Court, Cologne) and the High Court of Justice (England and Wales) had sought clarification concerning the scope of the judgment in Sturgeon and Others.By its judgment today, the Court reiterated that the principle of equal treatment requires that passengers whose flights are delayed and those whose flights are cancelled ‘at the very last moment’ must be regarded as being in comparable situations as regards the application of their right to compensation, because those passengers suffer similar inconvenience, namely, a loss of time.The Court also found that the requirement to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed is compatible with the Montreal Convention. In that connection, the Court held that the loss of time inherent in a flight delay constituted an inconvenience which was not governed by the Montreal Convention. Consequently, the obligation to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed falls outside the scope of that convention, but remains additional to the system for damages laid down by it.Next, the Court held that that obligation was also compatible with the principle of legal certainty according to which passengers and air carriers must know precisely the respective scope of their rights and obligations. In addition, the Court made clear that the requirement to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed is consistent with the principle of proportionality, according to which measures adopted by EU institutions must not exceed the limits of what is appropriate and necessary in order to attain the legitimate objectives pursued by the legislation in question, and the disadvantages caused must not be disproportionate to the aims pursued. In that connection, the Court noted that the obligation to pay compensation did not concern every delay, but only long delays. Moreover, airlines are not obliged to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation or long delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances.Lastly, the Court made clear that there was no need to limit the temporal effects of the present judgment.Source: ECJ press release 135/12 of 22 Oct. 2012Full text of judgement available here>>.

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