In international air transport, passengers must always arrive at the check-in counter sufficiently early before the flight's scheduled departure time. Many passengers are familiar with this, having had experience of catching a flight previously.
If a passenger arrives at the check-in counter later than the required time, even by a few seconds, is the airline entitled to refuse the passenger? A recent case has shed some light on this matter.
The passenger purchased an economy class flight ticket (via the ticket sales platform) from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Abu Dhabi International Airport on 22 June 2019. The scheduled departure time of the flight was 12:45am and the scheduled closing time of the check-in counter for economy class was 11:45pm.
The airport CCTV footage showed that the passenger entered the check-in counter zone at approximately 11:45:12am on 21 June 2019, just 12 seconds later than the scheduled closing time. At that time, all of the airline's staff had left, so the passenger could not complete the check-in procedure, resulting in her missing her flight.
The passenger filed a suit against the airline for compensation.
The court decided in favour of the airline for the following reasons.
Air transport contract
The passenger and the airline were in privity of an air transport contract and their rights and obligations were subject to the contract agreements. The airline had set up check-in procedures and rules which meant that the counter would be closed 60 minutes (for economy class) or 45 minutes (for business class) before the scheduled departure time of the flight.
The airline fulfilled its accessory obligation under the air transport contract to notify the passenger about the check-in rules by publishing this requirement on its official website before the departure of the flight and notifying the passenger via the relevant ticket sales platform. After the passenger had booked the ticket, several SMS messages had been successively sent to her, reminding her to arrive at the airport two hours in advance of the flight departure time to complete the relevant check-in formalities. The passenger admitted this during the trial.
According to article 25 of the Rule for Passenger and Luggage International Transportation by Air, the passenger had to arrive at the check-in counter early and leave sufficient time to complete all of the check-in procedures required. Otherwise, the airline would be entitled to cancel her reservation and all of the loss arising would be borne by the passenger herself.
For public safety and order, the airline had to strictly follow the Civil Aviation Administration of China's (CAAC's) stipulation on the closure time of the check-in counter to ensure that the flight could take off on time. Otherwise, it would have violated the CAAC's rules and could have been punished for such a violation. Correspondingly, passengers have a duty to comply with the check-in requirements set by airlines, otherwise they must suffer the consequences of their own noncompliance and negligence, such as being refused onboard by the airline.
According to the airport's CCTV footage, the passenger did arrive at the check-in counter 12 seconds later than the scheduled closing time of the check-in counter for economy class. Therefore, the court found that it was the passenger who had to bear the associated losses.
Passengers must arrive at the check-in counter as early as required by the airline and leave sufficient time to complete all of the check-in procedures required.
At the same time, the airline must fulfil its obligation to reasonably notify passengers of such check-in requirements, otherwise it would be disputable whether such an excuse would make an airline immune in similar cases of denied boarding.
For further information on this topic please contact Jin Yu-Lai at KaiRong Law Firm by telephone (+86 21 5396 1065) or email ([email protected]). The KaiRong Law Firm website can be accessed at www.skrlf.com.