Air India is no longer liable in UK’s flight sector compensation ruling
According to the UK’s Court of Appeal, an airline must not pay EU-mandated compensation for the entirety of a multi-stop journey due to the delay of a single leg that it operated within the EU. The ruling came via a case that involved Air India and a multi-stop itinerary that began end ended outside the EU.
In May of 2019, Ms. Kanaka Durga Chelluri travelled by air from Kansas City, Missouri, to Bengaluru, India. Her booking had four legs. As scheduled, those legs were as follows:
Kansas City (Missouri) to Detroit – Departure from Kansas City at 13:49 (local time) on 27 May 2019;
Detroit to London Heathrow – Departure at 18:00 (local time) on 27 May 2019;
London Heathrow to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj airport, Mumbai, India – Departure at 13:15 (local time) on 28 May 2019;
Mumbai to Bengaluru – Departure at 18:00 (local time) on 29 May 2019.
Delta Air Lines was the airline operating the first two legs of the journey, while Air India operated legs three and four.
According to court documents, the flight from London Heathrow to Mumbai was delayed by approximately 48 hours and did not depart until 14:09 (local time) on 30 May 2019. As a result, Chelluri did not arrive in Mumbai until 01:30 (local time) on 31 May 2019. With an arrival delay of 46 hours and 45 minutes, Chelluri missed her connecting flight to Bengaluru by nearly two full days.
Chelluri claimed the whole journey under EU Regulation 261/04– a regulation that provides a compensation mechanism for delayed and cancelled flights. UK Aviation News reports that District Court judges ruled that Chelluri was not entitled to compensation and rejected her claim, as the flight was effectively one flight (with multiple legs). Indeed, EU law stipulates that a multi-stop journey is regarded as a ‘whole journey’ when under a single booking.
According to Law.com, the court had to determine whether the airline would be liable to pay EU-mandated compensation for a whole multi-stop journey resulting from a delay to a single leg that it operated.
“Accordingly, on the basis of the authorities, I consider that the judge was right as a matter of law to conclude that in this case, where there was a single booking covering the whole of the flight from Kansas City to Bengaluru, Article 3(1)(a) of the Regulation did not apply. That means that, subject to ground 2, the judge was right to refuse the appellant’s claim.”
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith
Ultimately, the UK’s Court of Appeal upheld the district court’s decision, siding with Air India. The court ruled that EU law stipulates that multi-stop journeys are considered whole journeys. As Air India’s services did not start or end in the EU, it was not liable for compensation for the whole journey. Of course, this case will have ramifications on future claims of a similar nature
“What is significant about this decision is that this is one of the first cases where the Court of Appeal has been asked to determine EU law post-Brexit.
The intention of ECJ judges when making their decisions was discussed at the hearing, and the Court of Appeal chose to not interpret these principles differently in the post-Brexit era. This is despite an Attorney General commentary being released in October, which stated in its discussion that just because a passenger’s journey originated from a non-EU/UK destination this does not necessarily mean that they are not entitled to compensation.
Had the Claimant succeeded in their appeal, airlines could have expected myriad further claims against them, with a potentially substantial economic impact being felt across an industry already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Daniel Powell, Zaiwalla & Co, Solicitor, Air India