As around 40,000 passengers on Air France find their flights cancelled because of strikes, a new ruling at the European Court of Justice could mean they are entitled to hundreds of euros in compensation.
The court was asked to rule in a case concerning TUIfly, the German airline belonging to the giant TUI travel company.
In October 2016, rates of staff absenteeism due to illness among TUIfly staff soared from around 10 per cent to as much as 89 per cent among pilots and 62 per cent for cabin crew. It was regarded as a wildcat strike in protest at restructuring plans at the airline.
As a result, dozens of flights were cancelled and tens of thousands of passengers had their journeys disrupted.
Under European passengers’ rights rules, known as EC261/2004, cancellations and long delays trigger cash compensation payouts of between €250 and €600. But TUIfly rejected claims on the grounds that the strike amounted to an “extraordinary circumstance”, which allows airlines to avoid paying compensation.
A number of cases were brought in the German courts, which asked European judges to rule.
They concluded: “The spontaneous absence of a significant part of the flight crew staff (‘wildcat strikes’) … which stems from the surprise announcement by an operating air carrier of a restructuring of the undertaking, following a call echoed not by the staff representatives of the company but spontaneously by the workers themselves who placed themselves on sick leave, is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision.”
Bott & Co, a Cheshire law firm which specialises in flight compensation claims, said: “The ruling that staff strikes should not be classed as extraordinary circumstances is worth tens of millions of pounds in compensation a year to passengers and will be legally binding throughout Europe and will hold precedent in UK cases.”
However, it is likely that further cases will be tested in the British courts, with airlines contesting whether official strikes — such as the British Airways cabin crew dispute in 2017 — are covered by the judgment.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK airline regulator, welcomed the judgment for ”the clarity it provides to consumers who are impacted by wildcat strikes”.
A spokesperson for the CAA said: “This ruling means that any passenger who has been impacted by wildcat strike action can pursue a claim for compensation under EU261.
“This also means that any passenger who feels that a previous claim was refused on the basis of the disruption being as a result of wildcat strike action, could now go back to their airline and request their claim is reviewed.”
Airlines whose operations are disrupted by strikes already have a strict duty of care to passengers. They are required to pay for meals and accommodation when necessary after cancellations and long delays. But it has always been thought that to add the obligation of compensation would give trade unions an unreasonable amount of power.
For Air France’s latest two-day strike alone, the bill for compensation could reach €50m (£43m).
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