ECJ: Compensation claims may be lodged in country of departure
Publication date: 13 July 2009
Imagine that your flight has been cancelled, you want to obtain compensation - which has been refused by the airline - and you decide to refer the matter to a court. But which court would that be? A judgement issued by the EU Court of Justice, on 9 July (Case C-204/08), assesses the situation. Yes, you can refer to the court of the place of departure of your flight, even if the airline has its headquarters in another state. This is good news for passengers since, in the majority of cases, this means that a passenger will be able to refer to a court in his country of residence (if that is where he is departing from). This is clearly easier than referring to a court in another member state.
The case in question concerns a German citizen, residing in Munich, who booked a flight from Munich to Vilnius (Lithuania) with Air Baltic, the head office of which is in Riga (Latvia). The passenger was of the opinion that Regulation 261/2004, on compensation and assistance to air passengers, entitled him to compensation of €250. Faced with a refusal by the airline, he lodged an application with a German court having territorial jurisdiction over Munich airport.
This court held that it had jurisdiction to deal with the case, but Air Baltic succeeded in having this decision set aside, on the ground that jurisdiction lies with the court within the territorial jurisdiction of which the head office of the airline company is situated.
To answer the question concerning the competence of the court, the ECJ had to interpret the provisions of Regulation 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgements in civil and commercial matters. In its verdict, it finds that, where there are several places at which services are provided in different member states1, it is necessary to identify the place where the main provision of services is to be carried out in connection with the transport contract. And, in this case, “the place of the head office or the principal place of establishment of the airline concerned does not have the necessary close link to the contract”. In effect, services provided in Riga are not services the provision of which is linked to the actual content of the transport contract.
Services the provision of which corresponds to the fulfilment of this contract are, for example, the checking-in and boarding of passengers, in-flight care or
disembarkation at the place of landing.
In other words, services essentially provided at the place of departure and arrival of the aircraft. Consequently, a claim for compensation following the cancellation of a flight may be brought, as a matter of choice on the part of the passenger concerned, before the court having territorial jurisdiction over the place of departure or of arrival.
(1) In this particular case, some services were provided in Riga - the issuing of the ticket, the provision of an aircraft - and others in Munich - check-in, boarding.