Facts

The plaintiff in a recent case claimed reimbursement from Munich Airport. He claimed that the airport caused him and his family to miss the initially booked flight due to a slow security check. He therefore had to purchase new tickets at €613.96.

Decision

The Erding Local Court followed the plaintiff's argument and partially granted the claim. It considered that the ground handling contract between the airport and the air carrier was a contract with protective measures for third parties such as passengers.

The court determined that there was no contractual commitment between the arguing parties. Use of airport facilities does not establish a contract between a passenger and the airport. Instead, such a contractual bond exists only as a contract of carriage between passenger and air carrier, as well as in terms of a service contract between airport and air carrier. The latter contract is defined by the court as a ground handling agreement. Within this agreement the airport must ensure that security checks (which are carried out by the local aviation authority as a public task) can be performed in a proper manner. It is therefore the airport's duty to organise the waiting area in front of the security checks. These checks are at least partially conducted in the interest of the air carriers. In this context the airport must ensure that passengers who arrive to the check-in desk on time also pass through security checks in time for boarding and flight departure. The passenger is therefore included in the protection of the ground handling agreement as a third party.

There are four specific prerequisites for such inclusion:

  • The passenger must pass the security check and is therefore affected by the duties set out in the ground handling contract;
  • The fact that the passenger is affected by the ground handling contract, even though he or she is not a direct party, must be evident for both contractual parties;
  • As the passenger is the air carrier's contracting partner, he or she presents the necessary proximity to the creditor of the ground handling agreement;
  • The passenger has no further separate contractual entitlement against the air carrier to claim reimbursement in case of late arrival at the gate – EU Regulation 261/2004 is not applicable in this case – and is therefore in need of protection.

According to the court, the airport violated its duty to organise the security checks. While the plaintiff approached a member of staff outlining the issue, he was not urged to use a different lane in the security checks to ensure arrival on time at the gate. As the airport staff had detailed knowledge of its operational proceedings and time schedules, it was obliged to inform the plaintiff accordingly and insist on him advancing in the queue.

As the plaintiff missed his flight due to the long wait at security, the costs for the new plane tickets that he had to purchase were attributable to the airport's behaviour.

However, the court concluded that 20% of the claim was unfounded, as the plaintiff was liable to contributory negligence. The plaintiff should have left the queue and drawn attention to the approaching boarding time as soon as he risked missing his flight.

The judgment stated that airport staff must proactively open further lanes in security and urge passengers who are in danger of missing their flights to move along the queue. The airport must take all reasonable measures and open lanes that are generally used only for priority guests (eg, first and business-class passengers).

Comment

The court verdict demonstrates the expansion of the airport's duties in favour of a higher level of passenger protection. The decision is in line with the trend for increasing consumer protections. In this case, the air carrier was exempt from any liability to the passenger, as the organisation of the security check was part of the airport's duties within the ground handling agreement.

The order is appealable as it concerns a claim for more than €600. It is yet to be seen whether Munich Airport will fight the decision at the Landshut Regional Court.

For further information on this topic please contact Sophia Iwantscheff at Arnecke Sibeth Rechtsanwaelte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email (siwantscheff@arneckesibeth.com). The Arnecke Sibeth website can be accessed at www.arneckesibeth.com.

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