German court files reference for ECJ preliminary ruling regarding denied boarding

The plaintiff booked a flight connection from Frankfurt (FRA) via Sao Paulo (CGH) to Santiago de Chile (SCL) for 3.3.2010. The defendant should have operated the flight FRA-CGH whereas the flight CGH-SCL was scheduled to be operated by a different carrier. On 27.2.2010 an earthquake caused severe damages at the SCL airport.When the plaintiff arrived at FRA for check in, he was denied boarding although the flight FRA-CGH was operated as scheduled and seats were available. However, the flight CGH-SCL was cancelled. After some discussions the defendant re-booked the plaintiff to a flight FRA-CGH for the next day but was not able to organise a connecting flight to SCL.The plaintiff sued for compensation pursuant to Reg. 261/2004 because he had been denied boarding. The defendant argued that because of the damages caused by the earthquake it had been impossible to fly any passengers to SCL. The SCL airport had only partly resumed flight operation on 2.2.2010, limited to domestic flights. On 3.3.2010 the first international flights had been admitted, including a flight operated be the defendant. However, because of the closure of the airport, many passengers of previously scheduled fligths had been waiting to get from CGH to SCL, including some 30.000 citizens of Chile. This siutation had led to unaccaptable conditions at CGH airport. The defendant therefore had decided to first take the waiting passengers from CGH to SCL.The first instance court (AG Frankfurt/Main) had dismissed the claim. The appelate court (LG Frankfurt/Main) decided to refer the case to the ECJ for preliminary ruling, identifying the decisive issue as to whether or not the specific situation constituted “reasonable grounds” to deny boarding in the meaning of Art. 2 lit. j of Reg. 261/2004. The court therfore aksed the ECJ if the term “reasonable groudns” in Art. 2 lit. j was limited to circumstances related to the passenger himself or also included other circumstances such as force majeur.(LG Frankfurt/Main 01.03.2012, 2-24 S 185/11)

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