Scope and delimitation of article 3.1.A) of European Regulation No. 261/2004, according to the CJEU

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recently ruled on the scope and delimitation of Article 3.1.a) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004, which establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delays of flights.

In particular, in its judgment of 31 May 2018, delivered in Case C-537/17, the CJEU resolves the question referred by German Courts on the applicability of the aforementioned European Regulation 261/2004 in a case where a German passenger had signed a transport contract, through a single booking, to fly from a Member state (Germany) to a third country (Morocco) with a connection outside the EU (which also happened to be in Morocco).

The airline had refused to board the passenger on the connecting flight and had reassigned her seat to another passenger. The passenger was boarded on a subsequent flight and arrived at destination accumulating a long delay

The passenger applied for compensation for the delay. However, the air carrier, Royal Air Maroc, refused her application on the grounds that she was not entitled to claim compensation under Regulation EU 261/2004.

In those circumstances, the German court decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following question for a preliminary ruling: “Is there a flight, within the meaning of Article 3 (1)(a) of Regulation No. 261/2004, where an air carrier’s air transport operation includes scheduled interruptions (stopovers) outside the territory of the European Union with a change or aircraft?”

The CJEU resolved the issue by declaring that Regulation EU 261/2004 is fully applicable to passenger transport effected under a single booking and comprising, between its departure from an airport situated in the territory of a Member State and its arrival at an airport situated in the territory of a third State, a scheduled stopover outside the European Union, with change of aircraft. The CJEU considered these flights as “directly connecting flights” constituting a whole for the purpose of the right to compensation for passengers provided for in article 3.1.a) of EU Regulation 261/2004, and thereby confirmed the right of the claimant to be assisted and compensated as established in the said Regulation.