Airlines must compensate passengers for wildcat strikes, EU court rules

Germany’s TUIfly had refused to pay compensation for cancelled flights

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that allowing airlines to automatically classify wildcat strikes  as extraordinary circumstances would make passengers’ rights dependent on the different industrial relations laws that apply in each EU member state.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that allowing airlines to automatically classify wildcat strikes as extraordinary circumstances would make passengers’ rights dependent on the different industrial relations laws that apply in each EU member state.

 

Airlines must compensate passengers whose flights are cancelled because of wildcat strikes sparked by management decisions, an EU court has ruled.

In 2016, Germany’s TUIfly refused to pay passengers whose flights it cancelled compensation ranging from €250 to €600 each because of unofficial industrial action.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) said on Tuesday that TUIfly had to compensate passengers for the cancellations in a ruling on a claim taken by customers and referred to it by judges in Hanover and Dusseldorf.

TUIfly argued that unofficial industrial action, which involved staff taking a week’s sick leave en masse, qualified as “extraordinary circumstance” under EU laws governing passengers’ rights.

The airline maintained that this meant it was not obliged to compensate its customers for their missed flights.

Restructure the airline

However, the court ruled that, as the staff took the wildcat action in response to management announcing plans to restructure the airline, it was not an “extraordinary circumstance”.

The court pointed out that to qualify as extraordinary circumstances, the event could not be “inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the airline” and had to be beyond the company’s own control.

“The mere fact that a recital of the regulation mentions that such circumstances may arise, in particular, in the event of a strike does not mean that a strike is necessarily and automatically a cause of exemption from the obligation to pay compensation,” the court said.

It ruled that restructuring was a normal part of business and could cause conflict with workers. The judgment added that as an agreement between TUIfly and staff ended the absenteeism, this showed that it was not beyond the airline’s control.

Extraordinary circumstances

The court also noted that wildcat strikes fall outside normal industrial relations rules. Allowing airlines to automatically classify them as extraordinary circumstances would make passengers’ rights dependent on the different industrial relations laws that apply in each EU member state.

Unofficial industrial action is rare in European airlines, which are largely unionised. While the rules governing strikes and other protests vary between member states, most require trade unions to hold a vote of some description and notify the company of their intention to strike.

Airlines such as Aer Lingus parent IAG and Ryanair – which is negotiating recognition agreements with pilots’ unions – did not comment.