Ryanair Loses Ash Cloud Court Case

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Ryanair should have fully compensated one of its passengers whose flight home was cancelled during the volcanic ash cloud shut-down that followed the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in April 2010.
The ECJ has ruled that there are no limits (in terms of time or expenses) to an airline’s responsibility to look after its passengers during such events.  This decision is binding across the European Union.
Passenger Denise McDonagh was stranded for seven days while waiting for an alternative Faro-Dublin flight on Ryanair and claimed she spent approximately €1,130 euros (US$1,531) on accommodation, food and transportation bills.
The court battle basically hinged around whether the ash cloud event could be categorised as “extraordinary circumstances”; the legal term which defines whether airlines must pay
compensation to delayed passengers.  Ryanair’s defence was that the 2010 eruption was such a rare event that normal rules should not apply, because the event wasn’t one of “exceptional circumstances”.
However, the ECJ judges decided that the ash cloud event did constitute extraordinary circumstances: “which do not release air carriers from their obligation to provide care”.
The judges said the European Union’s laws on passenger rights “does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances.  Thus, all the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing.”
The judges decided that passengers are entitled to: “reimbursement of the amounts which proved necessary, appropriate and reasonable to make up for the shortcomings of the air carrier”.  An Irish court will now decide how much compensation Ms McDonagh’s is entitled to.
Ryanair responded by saying it: “regrets the decision of the European Court which now allows passengers to claim for flight cancellations which are clearly and unambiguously outside of an airline’s control.  When governments closed large swathes of European airspace unnecessarily in response to non-existent ‘ash clouds’ over Ireland the UK and continental Europe in 2010, the travel insurance companies escaped liability by claiming it was an ‘act of God,
“Today’s ruling by the European Court now makes the airlines the insurer of last resort even when in the majority of cases (such as ATC delays or national strikes in Europe) these delays are entirely beyond an airline’s control.
“Today’s decision will materially increase the cost of flying across Europe and consumer airfares will increase as airlines will be obliged to recover the cost of these claims from
their customers, because the defective European regulation does not allow us to recover such costs from the governments or unions who are responsible for over 95% of flight delays in Europe.”
The airline adds the decision in today’s test case has no retrospective impact for Ryanair as: “all other ‘ash’ related claims have been settled with passengers.”