Introduction

The applicability of the EU regulations governing passenger claims has often been the subject of intense legal debate. A Brussels court recently confirmed Article 5 of the EU Brussels I Regulation (44/2001) as the mandatory legal framework on jurisdiction with regard to passenger claims for compensation.

On February 11 2015 the Brussels court ruled that passenger claims for compensation based on the EU Flight Delay Compensation Regulation (261/2004) – which establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and cancellation or long delay of flights – must follow the jurisdictional rules set out in Article 5 of the Brussels I Regulation.

Facts

The case related to the delay of a flight from San Francisco to Paris. Two Belgian passengers claimed €1,200 in compensation for the delay of the flight pursuant to Article 7 of the Flight Delay Compensation Regulation. According to the passengers, the Brussels court had jurisdiction, as they were domiciled in Belgium.

While Article 5(1)(b) of the Brussels I Regulation provides that a person may be sued for matters arising from service contracts in the courts of the place where the services were provided or should have been provided, the passengers argued that this article did not apply. Instead, they claimed application of Article 16(1) of the Brussels I Regulation, which – they contended – underpins the jurisdiction of the courts of the place where the consumer is domiciled (in this case, Belgium).

Decision

In its February 11 2015 decision the Brussels court declined jurisdiction and ruled that the passengers must follow the jurisdictional rules set out in Article 5 of the Brussels I Regulation. The court referred in this respect to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision in Air Baltic (July 9 2009, C-204/08, Rehder v Air Baltic Corporation). In Air Baltic the ECJ unequivocally stated that the second indent of Article 5(1)(b) of the Brussels I Regulation must be interpreted as providing air passengers with the choice to bring a claim before either the court of the place of departure or the court of the place of arrival. In the case brought before the Brussels court, the flight had departed from San Francisco and landed in Paris.

The Brussels court held that Article 16 of the Brussels I Regulation does not apply to passenger compensation claims based on the Flight Delay Compensation Regulation, since Article 15(3) of this regulation specifically stipulates that the section on jurisdiction over consumer contracts does not apply to a contract of transport "other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation". As a consequence, the Brussels court declared the passengers' claim inadmissible and declined jurisdiction.

Comment

The court's decision can only be applauded as it strictly applies the Brussels I Regulation, notwithstanding the consumers' attempt to set aside the basic principles on jurisdiction.

By limiting the passengers' choice of forum to the place of departure or destination of the delayed flight, the court followed the case law of Dutch and French courts relating to similar factual matrices, and has increased legal certainty in an area pervaded by ample pro-consumer case law.

For further information on this topic please contact Pierre Frühling or Elisabeth Decat at Holman Fenwick Willan LLP by telephone (+32 2 643 34 00) or email (pierre.fruhling@hfw.com or elisabeth.decat@hfw.com). The Holman Fenwick Willan website can be accessed at www.hfw.com.

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