The Landshut Regional Court(1) recently dealt with the issue of calculating distance relevant to the amount of compensation pursuant to EU Regulation 261/2004.

Facts

The claimant booked a flight from Rome to Munich with a scheduled stopover in Amsterdam. Due to a delay in the flight from Rome to Amsterdam, the claimant missed his connecting flight and eventually arrived in Munich more than three hours later than originally planned.

The claimant claimed €400 as compensation, pursuant to EU Regulation 261/2004. On payment of €250, made by the defendant, the legal dispute was partially declared settled. The claimant maintained his claim for further payment of €150. The Erding Local Court dismissed the claim.

The claimant appealed the local court's decision, arguing that the distance of the 1,297 kilometre (km) flight from Rome to Amsterdam and the 729km flight from Amsterdam to Munich must be added together, leading to a total flight distance of more than 1,500km, and thus compensation of €400.

Decision

The Landshut Regional Court dismissed the appeal, ruling that the decisive factor determining compensation is the immediate distance between the point of departure of the delayed flight (in this case Rome) and the passenger's final destination (in this case Munich). Possible flight routes to and from transit airports should not be considered. The distance between Rome and Munich does not exceed 1,500km, which therefore lead to the €250 compensation.

According to the court, the term 'distance' used in EU Regulation 261/2004 means the space between two points linked by a direct connection. Pursuant to Article 7(4) of the regulation, the distances should be measured by the great circle route method.

Also, according to Article 7(1) of the regulation, the 'last destination' is the relevant point of reference, meaning that the regulator considered the possibility of stopovers. The fact that stopovers are not explicitly mentioned leads to the conclusion that they are not to be considered with regard to the distance.

The court further stated that this does not stand in the way of the regulation's aim to strengthen consumer rights. The assumption that inconvenience increases as distance increases is inaccurate. While the amount of compensation depends on distance, this differentiation is not based solely on increasing inconvenience. This is reflected in the European Commission's comment in the reasoning for EU Regulation 261/2004.

It would be impossible to justify why passengers who paid a (mostly) higher ticket price for a non-stop flight would be entitled to lower compensation than passengers who arrived with a similar delay but paid less for a flight with a stopover. Therefore, a summation of flight segments would lead to unreasonably unequal treatment of those passengers who booked a flight including a stopover in comparison to passengers with non-stop flights.

The court allowed a judicial review of this decision.

Comment

This judgment confirmed that for determining relevant distance, direct point-to-point distance is decisive. The court also pointed out that the airport from which the delayed flight departs is the point of reference. This means that in cases where a passenger has made a booking consisting of three flight segments and the delay occurs on the second stopover, the relevant departure point would be the first stopover rather than the airport of departure of the first flight segment.

For further information on this topic please contact Eva Tiemann or Ulrich Steppler at Arnecke Sibeth Rechtsanwaelte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email (etiemann@arneckesibeth.com or usteppler@arneckesibeth.com). The Arnecke Sibeth website can be accessed at www.arneckesibeth.com.

Endnotes

(1) 13 S 2291/15, December 16 2015.

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