Flights and financial compensation: the Court of Justice of EU indicates a faster and more effective way
The Court of Justice of EU, with judgment of 29 September 2022, C 597/20 (click here to read it), in case C-597/20, stated that the national authority (in Italy, ENAC) responsible for the application of the European regulation on the rights of air passengers (European Reg. n. 261/2004), if it has the legal competence, it may require the carrier to pay, to passengers who request it, the financial compensation due as a result of the cancellation or flight delay (or denied boarding).
This principle, apparently devoid of concrete relevance, could instead represent an important legal turning point for the protection of air transport passengers, who are currently forced to resort to ordinary justice to obtain recognition of their rights.
But how are passengers protected today?
The reference legislation
As already explained in a previous article (click here to read it), the European Regulation n. 261/2004 provides for the recognition of the rights of air transport passengers, while prescribing, on the other hand, obligations of assistance, information, reimbursement and compensation for damages, following the cancellation of the flight, the delay on arrival of more than 3 hours, or denied boarding due to overbooking.
In particular, the combined provisions of articles 5, 6 and 7 of the aforementioned regulation prescribe the right of passengers who have suffered the effects of the “unforeseen events” described above (waiting at the airport, stress, fatigue, etc.), to receive financial compensation amount proportional to the distance of the original air route:
- € 250 for all flights of less than or equal to 1500 km;
- € 400 for all flights:
- intra-community over 1500 km (eg: from Rome to Paris);
- for all other routes between 1500 and 3500 km;
- € 600 for flights that do not fall under letters a) or b)
The air carrier is obliged to pay this sum without delay, at the simple request of the passenger. Otherwise, the latter has the right to contact the judicial authority (the Justice of the Peace or the territorially competent civil court) for the recognition of their rights, including the right to pay compensation.
At the same time, the passenger has the right to make a formal complaint to the competent national authority (in Italy, as written, it is ENAC) to monitor compliance with the aforementioned rights and to impose sanctions on the airline responsible for the violations.
The case in point
The case dealt with by the Court of Justice concerned the non-payment, by the air carrier, of the financial compensation of € 600 due as a result of the delay in arrival at Budapest airport, exceeding three hours, of the flight departing from New York .
The passengers, instead of turning to ordinary justice, had filed a complaint directly with the competent national authority to supervise and impose sanctions, so that it would require the air carrier to pay the pecuniary compensation due.
The aforementioned Authority, accepting the requests of the passengers, had ascertained the violation of the regulation and ordered the carrier to pay the compensation of 600 euros to each passenger involved.
This decision, however, had been challenged before the Court of Budapest by the air carrier, which disputed that the jurisdiction was not of the national authority, but exclusively of the ordinary justice.
The Hungarian Court, before deciding on the case, had turned to the Court of Justice of the European Union, asking to clarify whether the decision of the national authority was legitimate, pursuant to art. 16 of the EC Regulation no. 261/2004.
Art. 16 of European Reg. n. 261/2004
Art. 16 of the aforementioned regulation prescribes:
- in the first paragraph, that each Member State must designate the body responsible for applying the Regulation, as regards flights departing from airports located in its territory or flights from a third country to such airports. This body takes all necessary measures to ensure that passengers’ rights are respected.
- In the second paragraph, that, without prejudice to Article 12 (relating to the claim for additional compensation), each passenger may lodge a complaint with any body designated under paragraph 1 (national body) or other competent body designated by a Member State, regarding an alleged violation of Regulation n. 261/2004.
According to case law, the complaints referred to in art. 16 constitute reports to the Authority, so that it correctly applies the EC Regulation no. 261/2004, certainly not so that it is obliged to rule on the right of each individual passenger to receive financial compensation.
The innovative decision of the Court of Justice of the EU
However, the Court of Justice of EU, in response to requests from the Budapest court, stated that:
- Article 16 of EC Reg. No. 261/2004 does not prohibit a Member State from attributing the competence to order the carrier to pay the financial compensation to the passenger to the national authority, rather than to the judicial authority, “in order to remedy insufficient protection of the rights of air passengers”.
- The pecuniary compensation constitutes “uniform and immediate compensation” for identical damages only for all passengers involved, the amount of which can also be easily calculated by the national authority, taking into account the distance traveled by the flight and the passenger’s last destination.
Therefore, at the conclusion of the aforementioned reasoning, he established that:
“… the Member States have the power to authorise the national body responsible for the enforcement of that regulation to compel an air carrier to pay compensation, within the meaning of Article 7 of that regulation, due to passengers under that regulation, where an individual complaint has been made to that national body by a passenger, provided that it is open to that passenger and that air carrier to bring proceedings before the courts”.
The objective pursued by EC Regulation n. 261/2004, recalled by the Court with this decision, is to ensure faster and more effective protection for the passengers involved while avoiding congestion in the courts.