[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [case materials; press release] Thursday that airline passengers confronted with flight delays of two hours or more may receive compensation equal to that of passengers whose flights are cancelled. The flat-rate compensation ranges between 250 and 600 euros. 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. The court found:
Given that the damage sustained by air passengers in cases of cancellation or long delay is comparable, passengers whose flights are delayed and passengers whose flights are cancelled cannot be treated differently without the principle of equal treatment being infringed. That is a fortiori the case in view of the aim sought by Regulation No 261/2004, which is to increase protection for all air passengers.
In those circumstances, the Court finds that passengers whose flights are delayed may rely on the right to compensation laid down in Article 7 of Regulation No 261/2004 where they suffer, on account of such flights, a loss of time equal to or in excess of three hours, that is to say when they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier.
The judgment clarifies circumstances under which a "delay" or a "cancellation" occurs and the corresponding duties of airlines to affected passengers. A right to compensation does not arise if the airline can show "extraordinary" circumstances caused the delay. The task falls to national courts to determine the meaning of the ECJ ruling.
The German and Austrian courts that initially referred the case to the ECJ are expected to review the decision. The ECJ ruling mirrors a 2008 ruling [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.