In a win for travelers, a new European Union Court of Justice decision is extending E.U. flight delay compensation requirements to connecting flights on the same reservation, even when the second airline is a different, non-E.U. airline (read: one not subject to E.U. rules). The precedent means that E.U. airlines can be required to pay travelers for extensive air travel delays on other, non-European airlines.
The decision was applied to a case in which travelers were flying from Prague (an E.U. member country) to Bangkok (a non-E.U. country) on connecting flights. Here’s what happened:
- Tickets, created as a single reservation, were issued for travel on Czech Airlines from Prague to Abu Dhabi, and then on Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok
- The flight on Czech Airlines arrived in Abu Dhabi on time
- The flight on Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok arrived eight hours late
- Czech Airlines said it should not be responsible for non-E.U. flight delays caused by another airline, and that Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi did not fall under E.U. regulation
The court ruled against Czech Airlines, holding it responsible for the standard compensation of €600 (about $676) despite the fact that its own flight operated on time and Etihad had caused the non-E.U. flight delay. However, Czech Airlines can sue Etihad for restitution.
Expanded E.U. Flight Delay Compensation
The E.U. compensation rules apply to all flights within the E.U., flights on all airlines leaving the E.U. for other areas, and flights from other areas into the E.U. operated by E.U.-based airlines. The court held Czech Airlines responsible because it sold the tickets and created the reservations, thereby acting as the carrier for the entire trip. The remedy for the apparent unfairness? Czech Airlines can sue Etihad for the amount paid to the passengers.
This decision is an interesting precedent, and will affect anyone (even non-E.U. citizens) traveling on E.U. reservations. But it’s otherwise not a direct change for most American and Canadian travelers. The ruling extends E.U. flight delay compensation only to travelers on connecting and code-shared flights on airlines not otherwise subject to E.U. compensation requirements, so long as the initial flight is on an airline that is subject to E.U. rules. I suspect that’s a relatively small number of travelers from North America; but at least for those travelers, it is a big deal, and a welcome additional protection.
In the longer term, consumer protections are still under threat. Major E.U. airlines are strongly opposed to the stiff E.U. protections and are lobbying to ease the rules. And nobody knows what will happen after Brexit to British airlines and flights between North America and the U.K, the most popular transatlantic route. For now, be happy with an extension of benefits. But watch out for attacks on those benefits sure to come.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.