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UK court refers airline passenger compensation issue to Europe court

The UK High Court on Tuesday suspended enforcement of a regulation requiring airlines to compensate passengers for flights that are delayed for more than three hours, until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] releases a new ruling on the issue. In November, the ECJ ruled [case materials; JURIST report] that airline passengers confronted with flight delays of three hours or more may receive compensation equal to that of passengers whose flights are canceled. The case arose under European Parliament and European Council Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 [text, PDF], which sets forth rules for compensation and assistance of airline passengers. UK airlines, which asked the court to refer the issue back to the ECJ, have indicated that they believe the ECJ's 2009 ruling was incorrect [trade group report, PDF] and that they would not compensate passengers for delayed flights. Tuesday's decision will prohibit UK courts from enforcing the ECJ's original ruling. A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) [official website] stated that the CAA supports the original ruling [BBC report] and that they hope airlines will continue providing compensation to passengers who have experienced long flight delays, although they acknowledged that the CAA will have no enforcement mechanism until the ECJ offers a new ruling. The ECJ is not expected to review the case [Travel Weekly report] until 2012.

The 2009 ECJ ruling mirrors a ruling issued in 2008 [JURIST report], which upheld the right of compensation to passengers whose flights are canceled. 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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