The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that mobile boarding stairs colliding with an aircraft does not constitute “extraordinary circumstances” relieving the air carrier of its obligation to pay compensation for a flight delay of more than three hours.

Sandy, Emma and Nele Siewert booked a flight from Antalya to Frankfurt with the airline, Condor. The arrival of that flight was delayed by more than six hours and the family sought compensation from Condor. Airline passenger claims for compensation are rejected where an airline establishes that the cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. In this case the reason for the delay was that a set of mobile boarding stairs had collided with the aircraft causing structural damage to a wing and, as a result, the aircraft had to be replaced. Condor argued that these were ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

The German Court referred the matter to the Court of Justice. The Court noted that technical problems may be regarded as ‘extraordinary circumstances’, provided that they stem from an event which, owing to its nature or origin, is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier and is beyond its actual control. The court found however that mobile stairs or gangways can be regarded as indispensable to air passenger transport and, therefore, a collision between an aircraft and a set of mobile boarding stairs was an event inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier. Condor was therefore required to pay compensation to the Siewerts.

This decision follows a recent Court of Justice of the EU decision which held that the concept of ‘arrival time’, in the context of a delayed flight, refers to the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened. These decisions, although likely to be welcomed by passengers, will be a concern for airlines, which may now be liable to pay compensation in circumstances where the delay is outside of their control.