EU Compensation for Delayed US Connecting Flight

EU Compensation for Delayed US Connecting Flight


United Airlines Still Hasn't Gotten the Message: EC 261-2004 Compensation is Due Even if the Delay is with the U.S. Connecting Flight, for a flight that originated in the EU. The European Court of Justice ruled (again) that a flight that originates in an EU member state and has one or more connections in a non-EU member country, with a flight delay in the non-EU member country, qualifies for EC 261-2004 compensation if the other compensation requirements are met.

C 561/20 United Airlines

In the case, three passengers booked a Lufthansa ticket that (operated entirely by United Airlines as a codeshare) for Brussels BRU-Newark EWR-San Jose SJC. The passengers arrived in San Jose with a delay of 223 minutes, occasioned by a delay in the EWR-SJC flight, not the BRU-EWR flight.

United Airlines, unsurprisingly, denied the EC 261-2004 claim, making two arguments:

  1. EC 261/2004 didn't apply since the delay occurred in the U.S., on the second leg of the flight, not on the flight that departed Europe
  2. If the court found that EC 261/2004 did apply in the above circumstance, it would have an extraterritorial effect contrary to international law; EU law should not apply in the U.S., given that the delay took place entirely on U.S. soil.

The Court's Reasoning

Fortunately for our clients and readers who might find themselves in similar circumstances, the ECJ struck down both of United's arguments:

  1. EC 261/2004 does apply when the entire trip is booked as a single ticket (yet another reason to not book separate tickets). A flight departing the EU with one or more connections, whether the connections are in the EU or not, is considered exactly the same as a nonstop flight from the EU, for purposes of EC 261/2004, when booked as a single reservation. Recall that EC 261/2004 applies to ALL airlines on flights departing from an EU member state (and also from Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland), although it only applies to flights on EU member airlines on international flights that arrive in the EU.
  2. EC 261/2004 only applies to non-EU airlines on flights that depart an EU member country (or Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland); it does not apply to flights that have no contact with the EU. This is why it wouldn't apply to passengers who booked a separate EWR-SJC ticket; such a ticket wouldn't touch an EU member country and hence wouldn't enjoy any EU consumer protection. United Airlines, by choosing to operate connecting flights that depart the European Union, binds itself to prevailing EU laws: “the EU legislature may…choose to permit…air transport, to be carried out in the territory of the European Union only on condition that operators comply with the criteria that have been established by the European Union and are designed to fulfill the consumer…protection objectives which it has set for itself.”

If you're on a United flight that departs the EU, is over 3500 km (>2175 miles) and arrives over 3 hours later than its scheduled arrival time you're owed EUR 600 per passenger. Complete United's Customer Care form to request your 261/2004 compensation.

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