On 24 February 2022, the Court of Justice handed down its judgment in Case C-451/20, Airhelp Ltd v Austrian Airlines AG, on the interpretation of Article 3(1), Article 5(1)(c)(iii) and Article 7(1) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004. The request has been made in proceedings between Airhelp Ltd (“Airhelp”) and Austrian Airlines AG (“Austrian Airlines”) regarding the latter’s refusal to offer compensation to NT, an air passenger whose rights were taken over by Airhelp, due to the cancellation of his flight.

NT had a confirmed booking for a connecting flight from Chişinău to Bangkok via Vienna which was supposed to be operated by Austrian Airlines. After the flight from Chişinău to Vienna was cancelled less than seven days before the scheduled departure, Austrian Airlines re-routed NT to a flight from Istanbul to Bangkok which reached its destination with a delay of 1 hour and 47 minutes. Since, if the flight from Istanbul to Bangkok had not been delayed, he would have arrived to his destination 40 minutes later than if he had been able to travel according to his initial schedule via Vienna, NT actually reached Bangkok with an overall delay of 2 hours and 27 minutes.

Airhelp therefore, to which NT assigned his right to Austrian Airlines, brought an action before the Bezirksgericht Schwechat (District Court of Schwechat) seeking a EUR 300 compensation since the air carrier did not offer to re-route NT to enable him to actually reach his final destination within two hours from the scheduled arrival of the flight originally booked. Since Airhelp’s claim was allowed at first instance, Austrian Airlines appealed to the Landesgericht Korneuburg (Court of the Land Korneuburg; the “referring court”) which, in the light of the need to interpret the relevant European legislation, decided to stay the proceedings and to refer to the Court of Justice two preliminary questions.

By its first question, the referring court asked whether Article 3(1) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 should be interpreted as meaning that that regulation also applies to an air route booked under a single booking but consisting of two flights, both of which are operated by (the same) Community air carrier, if both the place of departure of the first flight and place of arrival of the second flight are in a third country and only the place of arrival of the first flight and the place of departure of the second flight are in the territory of a Member State.

According to the Court, a flight with one or more connections which is the subject of a single reservation constitutes a whole for the purposes of the right of passengers to compensation provided for in Regulation No 261/2004, and as such its applicability is to be assessed with regard to the place of a flight’s initial departure and the place of its final destination. Therefore, Article 3(1) of Regulation no. 261/2004 cannot be interpreted as meaning that a passenger on a connecting flight, whose initial place of departure and final destination are located in third countries, may avail himself of the provisions of that regulation only because one or more stops of that flight’s segments are located in the territory of the Union.

In light of the answer given to the first question, the Court deem unnecessary to answer to the second one, by which the referring court asked whether Article 5(1)(c)(iii) of Regulation No 261/2004 should be interpreted as meaning that a passenger is entitled to compensation under Article 7(1) of that Regulation even if, on the alternative flight offered to him, his scheduled arrival time at the final destination would have been less than two hours after the scheduled arrival time of the cancelled flight, but he does not actually arrive within that time.