In a landmark case, the EU's top court has backed 11 passengers from Prague whose flight to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi was eight hours late on the second leg. The Czech airline which sold the ticket has to pay compensation.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that EU airlines selling a single ticket for a destination outside the bloc where a connection is required in a non-EU state must compensate passengers if there is a significant delay in the second flight.
The case dates back several years to 11 passengers who booked a flight to Bangkok. Their flight from Prague to Abu Dhabi with Czech Airlines arrived in the UAE on time. But the flight they took from there with Etihad Airways arrived 8 hours and 8 minutes behind schedule in Bangkok.
That delay of more than three hours means the passengers may be entitled to compensation under the regulation on the rights of air passengers dating back to 2004.
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Responsibility comes with ticket sale
The court ruled against Czech Airlines' plea that it was not responsible for another carrier's flight. The judges in Luxembourg ruled that "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 the regulation on the rights of air passengers."
It ruled that Czech Airlines was the "operating air carrier" holding a purchase contract with the 11 customers, and therefore responsible. It could not "take refuge behind a claim that the performance of a subsequent flight operated by another air carrier was imperfect," the court ruled.
An Etihad Airbus at Abu Dhabi airport
Sue the other airline
However, the court did rule that the EU airline could sue the non-EU airline in order to "obtain redress for that financial cost." So in this case, Czech Airlines is free to sue Etihad for the delay in order to recoup the compensation payments, the court noted.
Last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that the average delay per flight in the Middle East region was 29 minutes, and that with a growth of traffic in the area this could double by 2025 costing over $7 billion (€6.2 billion) in lost productivity and adding over $9 billion to airline operating costs.