Ryanair loses ash cloud appeal
Ryanair must pay accommodation, meals and other expenses to passengers who were affected by the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
In a decision that could have implications for the airline industry, the European Court of Justice said the airline must pay meals, accommodation and transport, and “means of communication with third parties” for passengers who were affected.
However, it is exempt from paying statutory compensation.
Ryanair said the decision would lead to higher fares for passengers, and warned airlines are now becoming “the insurer of last resort” in cases where the delays are entirely beyond the airline’s control.
“Ryanair regrets the decision of the European Court which now allows passengers to claim for flight delays which are clearly and unambiguously outside of an airline’s control,” the airline said in a statement.
Today’s ruling from the highest court in Europe relates to a case taken by Irish woman Denise McDonagh, from Terenure, Dublin.
Ms McDonagh had been due to fly from Faro in Portugal to Dublin on April 17th, 2010, but the flight was cancelled following the volcanic eruption.
Flights between continental Europe and Ireland did not resume until 22 April 2010 and Ms McDonagh was not able to return to Dublin until April 24th, 2010. Ms McDonagh claimed that Ryanair owed her €1,130 - the costs incurred by her during that period.
Ryanair had argued that the volcanic ash incident was beyond the usual definition of “extraordinary circumstances,” and airlines should not be expected to pay the costs.
While the case originally went to the Dublin District Court, the Dublin court asked the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of the notion of extraordinary circumstances.
If the volcanic ash eruption was judged to be “beyond normal circumstances”, the airline would have been exempt from its obligation to provide care to passengers.
In its judgment published today, the Luxembourg-based court found that the closure of part of European airspace as a result of the volcanic ash eruption constituted extraordinary circumstances, hence Ryanair had an obligation to provide care.
Today’s judgment had been expected.
Last March the Advocate general of the European Court of Justice ruled that airlines had to pay the charges incurred. Typically, the European Court of Justice follows the opinion of the advocate general.
Ryanair cancelled approximately 9,400 flights during the volcanic ash episode. It also refunded all passengers’ tickers and settled all “reasonable expense claims” at a cost of about €32 million.
The airline’s takeover bid for rival airline Aer Lingus is currently being considered by the European Commission.