English Court of Appeal finds non-EU airlines liable for missed connections
The issue has been a thorny one for airlines since the CJEU judgment in Air France SA v Folkerts (Case C-11/11, 2013) first extended the principle of EU 261 compensation being payable for flight delays resulting from missed connections.
Whilst there has been a degree of consensus in the courts of many EU Member States in favour of claimants, the English county courts (the usual forum for EU 261 claims) have been split on the question. Some have decided for the passengers, but others have rejected claims and held that liability does not attach where the missed connection concerns a flight of a non-EU carrier departing from an airport outside the EU. Those judgments have been based upon analysis as to the correct scope of EU 261, previous English High Court case law, and principles of extra-territoriality. The Gahan and Buckley appeals, each of which concerned flights by Emirates and missed connections in Dubai, were pursued largely with the aim of obtaining some certainty for airlines and passengers alike as to how claims of this type should be dealt with.
The Court of Appeal has come down firmly on the side of the passengers in this legal debate – perhaps not a great surprise given the broad consensus which already exists in courts in other EU Member States on this issue, and bearing in mind the raison d’etre of EU 261 as consumer protection legislation which is, as the Court of Appeal referred to up front in its analysis of the law “to afford a high level of protection for passengers, including against the inconvenience caused by delay to flights”. However, although the actual result is not particularly startling, there is an unease about the consequences of some of the Court’s analysis.
In brief, the Court of Appeal dismissed arguments as to scope of EU 261 and extra-territoriality and confirmed liability for airlines. The following are the key points from the judgment:
- When assessing delay for the purposes of compensation under EU 261, what matters is the passenger’s final destination.
- If the carrier provides a passenger with more than one flight to enable him to reach his final destination, those flights must be considered together in assessing whether there has been a three hours’ or more delay provided those connecting flights are taken without any break between them.
- EU 261 applies to a non-EU carrier when it is present in the EU and imposes a contingent liability on the carrier at that point. Liability will crystallise if the passenger arrives at the final destination three hours or more later than scheduled, regardless of whether this final destination is within the EU or not.
- The Court of Appeal rejected the notion that this represents an extra-territorial application of EU 261, concluding that the regulation applies because the non-EU carrier uses an EU airport; the activity which takes place outside EU jurisdiction – the missed connection and delay – merely quantifies the sanction for delay which is imposed within the jurisdiction.
- The Court of Appeal also firmly rejected arguments put forward on behalf of Emirates as to the application to non-EU carriers of CJEU case law which addresses (and seeks to resolve) the question of whether there is any conflict between EU 261 and the Montreal Convention.
The Court of Appeal judgment will require careful review in light of the many missed connections claims currently stayed by the courts in England. At the time of writing this article it is not known whether the Gahan v Emirates and Buckley v Emirates cases will be appealed further to the Supreme Court.
Sue Barham is a Consultant in Holman Fenwick Willan’s aerospace team. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org