Ryanair must pay accommodation, meals and other

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

Ryanair must pay accommodation, meals and other expenses to passengers who were affected by the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday.

In a decision that could have implications for the airline industry, the EU’s highest court 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 that airlines were becoming “the insurer of last resort” in cases where delays are “entirely beyond the airline’s control”.

‘Regret’

“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.

The airline also pointed out that travel insurers were exempted from liability by claiming the event was “an act of God”.

Ryanair introduced a €2 levy per passenger on all bookings in April 2011 to compensate for what it said was “unfair and discriminatory” payments to passengers following disruption caused by incidents such as bad weather and the volcanic ash cloud. Also known as the E261 levy, the charge is still being levied on bookings.

A spokesman for Ryanair said the levy “may increase” as a result of yesterday’s judgment.

The airline said the test case had no retrospective impact for Ryanair as all other ash cloud-related claims had been settled with passengers. The airline to date has paid about €27 million to customers over the incident.

Yesterday’s ruling from the European Court of Justice 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 April 22nd, 2010, and Ms McDonagh was not able to return to Dublin until April 24th. Ms McDonagh claimed Ryanair owed her €1,130 – the costs incurred by her during that period.

Beyond ‘extraordinary’

Ryanair had argued that the 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 court asked the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of the notion of “extraordinary circumstances”.

In its judgment yesterday, the Luxembourg-based court found that the closure of part of European airspace as a result of the volcanic ash eruption constituted “extraordinary circumstances”, which did not release Ryanair from its obligation to provide care.

The court said that the EU regulation on passenger rights “does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances”.

“Thus, all the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing.”

The court also added that air carriers, as experienced operators, should “foresee costs linked to the fulfilment of their obligation to provide care”, noting they may pass the costs incurred on to ticket prices.

On April 14th, 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland, spewing volcanic ash into the atmosphere and closing European airspace from April 15th to 23rd. The cloud lingered into May, and Dublin Airport was closed briefly.

Flight disruptions cost the aviation industry an estimated €1.3 billion, and tourism was down 30 per cent compared with April 2009.

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