Ryanair dealt a blow in volcanic ash case

Ryanair dealt a blow in volcanic ash case

Ryanair has lost the latest round in its legal battle to avoid paying expenses for passengers disrupted by delayed flights during the Icelandic volcano eruption in 2010.

The EU states that airlines must provide passenger care when flights are cancelled by “extraordinary circumstances”.

But Ryanair argued that the circumstances surrounding the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano were so extraordinary that the rules should not apply.

From then until 17 May 2010, the airspace of a number of Member States to and from which Ryanair provided services was intermittently closed, due to risk presented by the volcanic ash cloud resulting from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

While Ryanair refunded the tickets of stranded passengers and processed a number of expense claims, Ms Denise McDonagh, whose flight was cancelled on 17 April, claimed that Ryanair did not provide her with the necessary assistance she needed for the week she was forced to stay in Portugal.

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She has since sued the budget carrier for EUR 1 130 by way of compensation or damages, to cover the costs which she incurred for meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport.

The Dublin court asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for an interpretation of the regulation.

The Advocate General, Mr Yves Bot, pointed out that the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is not defined in EU law, but concluded that circumstances such as the closure of airspace owing to the eruption of a volcano constitute extraordinary circumstances.

He went on to explain that provision of care is particularly important in the case of extraordinary circumstances which persist over a long time.

“It is precisely in situations where the waiting period occasioned by the cancellation of a flight is particularly lengthy that it is necessary to ensure that an air passenger whose flight has been cancelled can have access to essential goods and services throughout that period.
“A limitation of the obligation to provide care would in some measure deprive the EU legislation of its effectiveness, since after a few days the air passengers concerned would be abandoned to their
fate.”

According to the Advocate General, it is not disproportionate to impose on air carriers such an obligation to provide care and enable them to pass on the resulting costs to airline ticket prices.

He further condemned Ryanair, which introduced a special levy in April 2011 in order to cover the costs which it had incurred in providing care to passengers whose flights had been cancelled owing to
the eruption of the Icelandic volcano.

Ryanair claims this was a test case to seek clarity for events such as this in future.