European court ruling strengthens airline passengers' right to compensation

A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE) will make it easier for many air travelers to obtain compensation when their flights to, from or within the EU are delayed or cancelled.

Travelers on airlines based in the European Union or which serve the EU are protected by European Union Regulation No. 261/2004, legislation commonly called EU 261. It requires that airlines provide up to €600 compensation for long-distance flights delayed more than three hours, cancelled flights, or denied boarding. Passengers on short or medium distance flights that are delayed may also receive compensation, though the amounts will be less.

Flag of the European Union (from WikiMedia Commons)

EU 261 covers all flights within, to or from the EU. However, different countries and legal jurisdictions have different time periods allowed for the claiming of flight compensation, and France had instituted the additional requirement that passengers provide their boarding passes when claiming compensation. In 2018, the French Supreme Court upheld that requirement using the reasoning that the boarding pass would prove the passenger was actually present at the airport on the day of departure.

"This had worked very much in favour of the airlines and had been used to avoid making payouts," according to a news release sent to TheTravelPro by GIVT, a firm that specializes in helping travelers receive compensation under EU 261.

"This new verdict sends a clear message to the airlines that passenger’s rights should be upheld and that passengers should not be stymied in their claims by requesting unnecessary documents," the news release continued.

GIVT's take on the court ruling was that a boarding pass merely confirms information that an airline already has in their system, and the demand for its production in the claim process was clearly a case of airlines trying to avoid responsibility.

“This landmark judgement firmly shows that the courts are on the passengers’ side," noted Kamila Szczygie┼é, a solicitor with GIVT. "It strengthens [EU 261] and stands as a precedent for future legislation in other jurisdictions, continuing a trend for stronger passenger rights as seen with Canada’s recent changes to their Air Passenger Protection Regulations."

The CJUE's ruling means better passenger protection in the future and enables passengers to resubmit claims that had been previously rejected by airlines for missing boarding passes.

My take

I've written about this before but noted that most travelers don’t know about those protections at all, even though EU carriers are required to post signs and provide documents notifying travelers that they may be entitled to compensation and outlining the passengers’ rights. As a result, when a flight is delayed,  travelers often do not understand whether they are entitled to compensation
under their specific circumstances, or how to get whatever they may have coming to them.

Companies like GIVT and Berlin-based flightright serve as a go-betweens, working with the airlines on passengers’ behalf. Passengers are assessed fees for the services, often a percentage of the amount awarded.

Lufthansa 747-400 at SEA


I have long preferred to take an air carrier that reflects my destination - British Airways to London, Lufthansa to Frankfurt, for example - mostly because I enjoy immersing myself in the mood and vibe of my destination as soon as I board the aircraft. On a more practical level, the protections provided by EU 261 are another reason to fly a European carrier when heading across the pond.

Finally, if you are flying an EU carrier and your flight is delayed or cancelled, it will be your choice whether to act on your own behalf or to engage outside assistance. In either case, as the British proverb goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

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Photos by Carl Dombek unless otherwise noted
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