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Europe court rules airline passengers must be compensated for canceled flights

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday upheld [case materials; press release] a law that passengers must be compensated if a flight is canceled without "extraordinary circumstances." The law [text; materials], passed in 2004 by the Council of the European Union [official website], established common rules regarding compensation and assistance to passengers for canceled flights. The original claim [BBC report] against Alitalia [corporate website] was brought by an Austrian family that was unable to make their connecting flight as a result of Alitalia’s flight cancellation. The court held:

Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights ... must be interpreted as meaning that a technical problem in an aircraft which leads to the cancellation of a flight is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision, unless that problem stems from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control.
Monday’s ruling clarifies the law and forces the airlines to show that the circumstances for the cancellation were in fact extraordinary.

The legislation, which went into effect [JURIST report] in 2005, requires airlines to compensate travelers for cancellations, delays, and denial of seats. It places the burden of proof on airlines if they wish to avoid payment. In 2006, the ECJ upheld [JURIST report] the airline passenger regulations in a challenge brought by International Air Transport Association [group website] and the European Low Fares Airline Association [group website; press release, PDF], which argued that the law was too costly to implement and some conditions were outside of the airlines' control.

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