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The Financial Times: ECJ official backs flight delay damages

Air travellers whose flights are delayed by three hours or more have a right to compensation from airlines, according to a top European Court of Justice official.

The non-binding opinion by Yves Bot, advocate-general to the court, was in response to a case brought by British Airways, easyJet, Tui Travel and the main industry body, and another by passengers against Lufthansa over a flight from Lagos to Frankfurt that landed more than a day after its scheduled arrival.

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The UK airlines and Lufthansa are both challenging a 2009 ruling by the court that, in terms of compensation, passengers who experience significant delays should be treated in the same way as those whose flights are cancelled. Under that decision -”Sturgeon and Others” - passengers are entitled to between  £199 and  £480 depending on the distance of the flights they booked.

Explaining one of the sector’s concerns Gerald Khoo, an analyst with Espirito Santo investment bank, said: “The selling of an airline ticket seems to open up a contingent liability larger than the fare.”

British Airways, a division of International Airlines Group, and Tui cautioned on Tuesday that Mr Bot’s opinion did not constitute a final decision. However, the court often rules in line with the advocate-general’s recommendations.

BA said: “The European Court of Justice ruling regarding the Sturgeon case in November 2009 has come under criticism from many parties and we also believe the ruling was wrong.”

The UK airlines had sought assurances from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority that the regulator would not interpret EU passenger-protection regulations introduced in 2004 as obligations on the airlines to compensate delayed customers. When the CAA refused, the airlines took their request to the UK High Court, which referred it to the ECJ.

But Mr Bot wrote in his decision that the airlines had raised “nothing new which might call into question the interpretation that the court gave of those provisions in [the Sturgeon and Others case]”.

The opinion is the second blow this spring delivered by Mr Bot to the industry, after he said in March that Ryanair should have paid for the room and board for a customer stranded by the 2010 volcanic ash cloud over northern Europe.

However, airlines could get some relief from these obligations if a review of the 2004 regulations goes their way. Launched last year by Siim Kallas, Europe’s transport commissioner, and prompted in part by the ash cloud disruption, the review is examining “limitation of liability” for airlines, with an eye to passing on some responsibilities for passengers to governments.

Source: The Financial Times