Ryanair loses EU ash cloud test case

 

RYANAIR HAS lost the latest round of its attempt to avoid paying for accommodation and meals for passengers stranded by “extraordinary events” beyond its control.

Advocate general of the European Court of Justice Yves Bot said yesterday that airlines were obliged to pay the costs incurred by passengers whose flights were disrupted by “extraordinary events” like the 2010 Icelandic volcano.

Ryanair had argued that such events were so extraordinary airlines should not be expected to pay the costs.

If the opinion is followed by the full court, as the majority of such opinions are, it will have implications for the airline industry throughout Europe. EU law obliges airlines to provide passengers with care and assistance, including hotel accommodation, when flights are cancelled by events beyond their control.

In March 2010 the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland, creating a huge ash cloud which closed swathes of European airspace from April 15th to 23rd.

Denise McDonagh, from Terenure, Dublin, was stranded in Faro, Portugal, on April 17th of that year due to the cancellation of her flight. She was unable to return until April 24th. She sued Ryanair in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court for €1,129, the costs she incurred as a result of the cancellation.

Ryanair did refund the tickets of stranded passengers and processed 90 per cent of their “reasonable expense claims” at a cost of about €32 million, but refused to reimburse Ms McDonagh the full cost of the week she was forced to stay in Portugal. The Dublin court asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for an interpretation of the regulation.

The advocate general said the notion of “extraordinary circumstances” was not defined in EU law and its meaning had to accord “with its usual meaning in everyday language”.

“In everyday language, the term ‘extraordinary circumstances’ refers to all circumstances over which the air carrier has no control: an event which is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and is beyond the actual control of that carrier on account of its nature or origin.

“In the view of the advocate general, all events which meet that description are bracketed together under a single notion, leaving no room for a separate category of ‘particularly extraordinary’ events which would fully release the air carrier from its obligations,” Mr Bot said.

Ryanair said this was a test case seeking clarity for such events in the future. Stephen McNamara, its head of communications, pointed out the advocate general’s opinion was not binding on the court.