The High Court recently considered an appeal in the case of Hook v British Airways PLC. Mr Hook, who suffered from both a physical disability and learning difficulties, brought a claim against the defendant airline for failing to make reasonable efforts to meet his seating needs on flights to and from Cyprus. He alleged breaches of Article 10 and Schedule II of EC Regulation 1107/2006 ('the Regulation') concerning the rights of disabled persons when travelling by air.
Mr Hook suffered no physical injury as a result of the defendant's alleged breach of statutory duty. His claim was, therefore, essentially for injured feelings. Such a claim is specifically allowed by Regulation 9(2) of the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007. However, this brought the claimant into direct conflict with the provisions of the Montreal Convention ('the Convention'). In particular, Article 17(1) of the Convention provides that a carrier is liable for damage sustained in the case of death or bodily injury of a passenger, if that death or injury occurred on board the aircraft. The court's interpretation of 'bodily injury' means there is no right of action for claims which are purely psychological in nature.
In considering Mr Hook's claim, both at first instance and on appeal, the courts were required to straighten out this apparent conflict of laws. On both occasions, they arrived at the same conclusion. It was ultimately held that Mr Hook's claim fell outside of the remit of the Montreal Convention, as there was no bodily injury, and Article 29 of the Convention precluded him from relying upon any right of action not prescribed within the text of the Convention itself. It was further held that the Montreal Convention was intended to govern the liability of air carriers exclusively and therefore Regulation 9 of the Civil Aviation Regulations, as relied upon by Mr Hook, did not provide an exception to the general rule. As such, his appeal was dismissed.
In times where increasing effort is being made to improve the rights of people who suffer from a disability, the decision in Hook may seem an alien concept. It is certainly an example of legislation (namely Regulation 9) failing to serve its purpose. It will be interesting to see if the matter is appealed further to the Supreme Court, or perhaps further afield, for further determination.