Passengers entitled to compensation also for delays of flights operated by a non-EU carrier outside the EU

Mid July 2019, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) dealt with the issue of claiming compensation for a significant delay of a flight operated by a non-EU carrier. When two connecting flights are booked by a single reservation with an EU-based carrier and the first flight departs from an airport located in an EU member state, passengers are entitled to compensation even though the delay only occurred during the second connecting flight (outside the EU) operated by a third-country carrier. The CJEU thus sided with 11 passengers claiming flight-delay damages from Czech Airlines.

In this case, passengers booked a flight from Prague to Bangkok through Abu Dhabi with CSA, by a single reservation. The flight was operated in two parts and by two air carriers. The first part of the flight, from Prague to Abu Dhabi (CSA) was not delayed; the second part, from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok (Etihad Airways – a non-EU carrier) was delayed by more than 8 hours on arrival.

In its answer to the prejudicial question, the CJEU interpreted Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 (on air passengers’ rights) establishing common rules on compensation to passengers in the event of flight delays. Passengers of a connecting flight departing from an airport located in the EU are entitled to a compensation for the delay of the second connecting flight, outside the EU, as long as two conditions are met:

  • The two connecting flights were subject to a single reservation with an EU air carrier.
  • The aircraft arrived at its destination with a delay of at least three hours.

The fact that the delay was caused by the second flight operated by a non-EU carrier does not change this. The CJEU also pointed out that under its previous case law, flights with one or more connections that are the subject of a single reservation must be regarded as a single unit. This means that in the context of such flights, the air carrier that has operated the first flight cannot take the defence that the delay was caused by the subsequent flight operated by another air carrier. The payment of compensation to passengers does not affect CSA’s right to seek damages from any entity that caused CSA to breach its duty to transport passengers to the place of destination on time.

The judgment thus supports the declared aim of the regulation, i.e. to provide passengers a high level of protection. According to the CJEU, it must be ensured that passengers obtain compensation from the operating air carrier that entered into the contract of carriage with them, and that they do not have to take account of arrangements made by that carrier for the performance of the second of the connecting flights.

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