The Frankfurt Local Court(1) recently decided that an airline may restrict the validity of ticket vouchers given as a gesture of goodwill to one year.

Facts

The plaintiff booked a flight with the defendant non-EU carrier, but was denied boarding on his flight from Dubai to Frankfurt and arrived at his final destination 24 hours late. To compensate for the inconvenience, the defendant offered the plaintiff a free round-trip ticket voucher for two passengers pursuant to the airline's conditions of carriage. According to the conditions, the voucher was valid for one year.

The plaintiff was unable make use of the voucher within the year, so requested that it be extended. The defendant refused.

The plaintiff maintained that the voucher was worth €1,100. He claimed that the time limit on the voucher was inadmissible because the defendant owed payment of damages and compensation according to EU Regulation 261/2004 on account of the delay. Hence, the voucher's time limit must correspond with the limitation period of the claims (ie, three years according to the standard limitation period set forth in Section 195 of the Civil Code).

The defendant argued that the voucher represented only a gesture of goodwill and the time limit was therefore admissible.

Decision

The court followed the defendant's argument and dismissed the claim in its entirety.

The court ruled that the plaintiff had no right to compensation according to the regulation, as the regulation did not apply to the flight in question since it did not depart in an EU member state and was not operated by an air carrier of an EU member state.

Further, the plaintiff could not claim damages according to the Civil Code. Even if the delay posed a breach of the transportation contract, the plaintiff failed to show that any concrete damages had occurred. Moreover, a claim based on a service obligation could be ruled out, as the defendant had no such obligation. The voucher's time limit was incorporated in the agreement between the parties. According to the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, the time limit on such vouchers is not always disproportionately disadvantageous for the customer. Such time limits are customary and in the majority of cases are not to be classified as discriminating.

The plaintiff made use of the transportation from Dubai to Frankfurt in return for the payment he made to the defendant. The time-limited round-trip voucher posed solely a general compensation for the delay. The defendant had a justified interest to limit the validity of the voucher as it was issued according to the conditions of carriage and was free of charge.

Outlook

The plaintiff appealed to the Frankfurt Regional Court and has issued a court order indicating that it shares the opinion of the local court and that the appeal will be dismissed. The final decision is expected before the end of 2016.

Comment

As the voucher's time limit was part of the agreement between the parties, the plaintiff was unable to claim damages from lack of use during this period. Further, as the voucher constituted a gesture of goodwill to which the plaintiff had no legal right, it was in the defendant's justified interest to limit the voucher's validity.

The plaintiff was unable to deduce any claims of payment from the voucher, as it was intended for transportation and not as a monetary benefit. In addition, the voucher did not pose as compensation according to the regulation, as such compensation would be monetary and not intended for transportation.

The defendant set out guidelines and decided under which circumstances the plaintiff was entitled to a goodwill gesture. As the defendant was not obliged to prolong the voucher's validity, its denial is not a breach of contract.

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

Endnotes

(1) 30 C 874/16 (75), July 13 2016.

This article first appeared in IAM. For further information please visit www.iam-media.com.