Introduction
Facts
Decision
Comment


Introduction

Passengers whose flights have a stopover in another city or country sometimes face the risk of missing their connecting flight, resulting in a much-delayed arrival at their final destination. While the reasons for a connecting flight being missed can be multifaceted, the responsibility for this situation must be transparently established, and the German courts have taken clear positions on this issue in various cases. The question of who is responsible is relevant in terms of whether the carrier must pay compensation and provide care and support services to the passenger.

If the connecting flight is delayed and the minimum connecting time (ie, the minimum time between an aircraft landing and a connecting flight departing that would allow a transferring passenger to reach the connecting flight) is no longer met, the air carrier must prove that the passenger could still have reached the connecting flight in the specific situation in order to escape liability.(1) If a passenger fails to reach their flight on time because the security check in between the flights took too long, this is not the responsibility of the air carrier, according to prevailing case law.(2)

In a judgment on 2 August 2022, the Frankfurt am Main District Court had to answer the question as to whose area of responsibility a missed connecting flight fell into.(3)

Facts

The passengers booked a flight from Menorca via Palma de Mallorca and Madrid to Frankfurt am Main. The flight from Menorca to Palma de Mallorca was delayed by five minutes.

In Palma de Mallorca, the minimum connecting time of 30 minutes was just respected. The flight from Palma de Mallorca to Madrid was operated on time. However, the plaintiff was not carried on this flight, as he had not arrived in time to board.

As he had missed his flight, the passenger was rebooked on a flight the next day. The passenger did not want to spend the night at the airport, so he took a taxi to a nearby hotel. The costs incurred were claimed as assistance and support services within the meaning of articles 5(1), 8(1)(b), 9(1)(b) and (c) of the EU Flight Compensation Regulation(4) in the proceedings.

Decision

The question in this case was who was responsible for the passenger missing the flight. The minimum connecting time had been observed, so it had to be clarified why the passenger had not arrived in time for boarding.

In a written witness statement, the plaintiff stated that he had not reached the departure gate in time because he had asked the airport staff where he had to go and the staff had sent him to the baggage hall. His route had been limited because of health measures due to the covid-19 pandemic. The plaintiff provided no further clarification as to the airport staff involved.

According to the so-called "spheres theory" of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), it first had to be established whether the incident occurred under normal circumstances and whether such circumstances could have been controlled by the air carrier.(5)

The fact that an airport employee had sent the passenger in the wrong direction was not part of the normal circumstances of an air carrier. The Court therefore correctly stated that the airport employee was a third party. An air carrier cannot be held liable for any misconduct of a third party, as the third party is not controlled by the air carrier.

Accordingly, the claim was dismissed.

Comment

What is interesting about this decision is that the Court consistently applied the demarcation established by the ECJ only a few days after the publication of the ECJ judgment in case C-308/21.

In this ruling, the ECJ stated that an event is considered to be external if it cannot be controlled by the air carrier because it results from a natural event or the action of a third party.

Such a differentiated consideration is often forgotten by passengers and the courts. The passenger, however, will most likely not forget his involuntary night spent in Palma de Mallorca.

For further information on this topic please contact Stefan Weckenmann at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email ([email protected]). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.

Endnotes

(1) Hannover District Court, Ref 23 C 12833/16.

(2) Higher Regional Court Frankfurt am Main, Court Ref 1 U 220/20.

(3) Frankfurt am Main District Court, Ref 29 C 3633/21 (40).

(4) (EC) No. 261/2004.

(5) ECJ, Ref C-28/20.