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Europe extends scope of passenger compensation by Anne Paylor 27 Feb.13

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that passengers on connecting flights must be compensated if they arrive at their destination at least three hours late, even if the original flight was not delayed more than three hours.

The ruling specifically upholds the right to compensation for late arrival at the final destination even if the original flight was not delayed beyond the limits laid down by EU law.

The ECJ judgment was in response to a case brought by Air France appealing an award of damages to passenger Luz-Tereza Folkerts. She was booked to fly from Bremen to Asunción, via Paris and São Paulo. The departure of her Air France flight from Bremen to Paris was delayed approximately two-and-a-half hours. As a result, Folkerts missed her onward Air France connection to São Paulo. She was then re-booked onto a later flight to São Paulo, but missed the connecting flight to Asunción. She eventually arrived in Asunción 11 hours after the arrival time originally scheduled.

Air France was ordered to pay damages, including €600 ($784) under EU regulation, but instead brought an appeal on a point of law before the German Federal Court of Justice, which referred it to the ECJ.

The ECJ decision argued that passengers whose flights are delayed may be compensated, even though the regulation expressly grants a right to compensation only when flights are cancelled, if they reach their final destination three or more hours after the scheduled arrival time. Fixed compensation (€250, €400 or €600 depending on the distance of the flight) is determined on the basis of the last destination at which the passenger’s arrival will be delayed after the scheduled time. This amount can still be reduced by 50% in accordance with the regulation, if the delay is less than four hours for a flight of more than 3,500 kilometers.

In its judgment, the ECJ pointed out the purpose of the regulation is to grant minimum rights to air passengers when they are denied boarding against their will, when their flights are cancelled, and when their flights are delayed. It said that passengers whose flights are delayed by three hours or more should be entitled to similar compensation as passengers whose flights have been cancelled because “they suffer an irreversible loss of time and, hence, a comparable inconvenience.”