Ryanair has lost an appeal against an English court ruling that it must compensate customers whose flights are cancelled as a result of strike action.
The Court of Appeal in London this week upheld the High Court’s earlier ruling in April 2021, which held that the Irish airline must compensate thousands of passengers whose flights were delayed or cancelled in 2018 as a result of strikes.
Lord Justice Newey said strikes did not in themselves constitute “extraordinary circumstances” under the EU Flight Compensation Regulation, which entitles passengers to compensation of up to €600 where their flights are cancelled or seriously delayed.
The judge said strikes were “capable” of amounting to extraordinary circumstances, but that a strike over pay or employment conditions would normally not meet that criteria.
Lord Justice Newey referred to three cases of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) concerning strike action by employees of an air carrier, including Airhelp Ltd v Scandinavian Airlines System, which was decided after Brexit and therefore not binding on the English court.
“This conclusion, while not founded on Airhelp, accords with the CJEU’s decision in that case,” he said, adding:
“Mr Kennelly suggested that, were this court to interpret the Regulation in the way that the CJEU did in Airhelp, there would be unintended consequences and perverse incentives, not least because the position of trade unions in collective negotiations would be strengthened in an undesirable way. However, in the context of international travel there is virtue in a passenger’s rights to compensation being the same whether his flight is from, say, London Stansted or Dublin. In fact, an air carrier which had to make cancellations as a result of a strike would have an incentive to cancel flights from the United Kingdom rather than European Union airports were we to accept Mr Kennelly’s interpretation of article 5(3) of the Regulation.”
The judge concluded: “The upshot is that, in my view, the judge was right to reject Ryanair’s contention that the flight cancellations at issue were caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ in his impressive judgment.
“The strikes from which the cancellations arose, relating as they did to employment conditions of employees of Ryanair, did not constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’ whether or not the aims of the strikers were reasonable or achievable and notwithstanding the involvement of trade unions.”