Consumer expense claims supported in Ryanair ash ruling

Ryanair has lost the latest round of a legal battle to avoid paying for hotels, meals and drinks for passengers affected by the Icelandic ash cloud volcanic eruption in 2010.

Advocate general of the European Court of Justice Yves Bot said yesterday that airlines were obliged to pay the costs incurred by passengers whose flights were disrupted by “extraordinary events” like the volcano.

But Ryanair argues the closure of airspace following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano was so extraordinary that the rules should not apply.

If the opinion is followed by the full court, as the majority of such opinions are, it will have implications for the airline industry throughout Europe.

EU law obliges airlines to provide passengers with care and assistance, including hotel accommodation, when flights are cancelled by events beyond their control.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland in March 2010, creating a huge ash cloud which closed large areas of European airspace from April 15 to 23.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said: “In everyday language, the term ‘extraordinary circumstances’ refers to all circumstances over which the air carrier has no control: an event which is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and is beyond the actual control of that carrier on account of its nature or origin.

“In the view of the advocate general, all events which meet that description are bracketed together under a single notion, leaving no room for a separate category of ‘particularly extraordinary’ events which would fully release the air carrier from its obligations.”

The “opinion” will now be considered by the full court, which will deliver a final verdict later this year.

Ryanair did refund the tickets of stranded passengers and processed 90% of their “reasonable expense claims” at a cost of about €32 million.

But Denise McDonagh, of Dublin, said that during her seven-day wait for a Ryanair flight from Faro to Dublin she spent £1,000 on accommodation, food, and transport. The airline refused to reimburse the full cost of the week she was forced to stay in Portugal.

She sued Ryanair in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court for €1,129, the costs she incurred as a result of the cancellation. The Dublin court asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for an interpretation of the regulation.

Ryanair said this was a test case seeking clarity for such events in the future. A spokesman said the advocate general’s opinion was not binding on the court.

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