Ryanair loses High Court bid to avoid paying passenger compensation over pilot strike

Ryanair loses High Court bid to avoid paying passenger compensation over pilot strike
Ryanair pilots during their strike action in Ireland on July 20, 2018.

Ryanair has lost its High Court bid to overturn decisions requiring the airline to pay compensation to 10 passengers over flight cancellations due to strike action by its Irish-based pilots.

Ryanair had challenged determinations of the aviation regulator directing compensation to be paid to five passengers in respect of a flight cancellation due to strike action on July 12, 2018, and to a further five passengers in respect of a cancellation due to strike action on July 20, 2018.

The determinations were made by the Commission for Aviation Regulation in accordance with a European regulation, enforcement of which is the regulator's responsibility.

In judicial review proceedings, Ryanair argued it was entitled, under the 2004 regulation, to a derogation of the obligation to pay compensation/fixed sum because the cancellations arose in the type of "extraordinary circumstances"" allowed for under the regulation.

The regulation provides an airline shall not be obliged to pay compensation if it can prove the flight cancellation is caused by "extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures were taken".

In her judgment today, Ms Justice Miriam O'Regan rejected those arguments.

The case involved consideration of various CJEU judgments concerning claims against airlines.

A number of principles emerged from those judgments which assisted in deciding whether or not the derogation sought by Ryanair applied in this case, the judge said.

The CJEU had made clear the primary purpose of the regulation is to increase passenger protection and the regulation must be examined from a "passenger perspective", she outlined.

Although "extraordinary circumstances" is not defined within the regulation, the case law defines it as referring to events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the "normal exercise"" of the activity of the air carrier and are beyond its "actual control".

A requirement for equal treatment of passengers meant compensation was payable to passengers who suffered a delay beyond three hours, she said.

Other principles included that air carriers may, as a matter of course when carrying out their activity, have disagreements or conflicts with all or some of their staff and that the circumstances of each individual case must be considered.

In this case, she said it was "unstateable" for Ryanair to suggest the strike at issue might, because of the involvement of the trade union Fórsa, be considered "extraordinary".

The union had acted as agents for members of Ryanair's staff and domestic law on whether or not a strike is lawful cannot control the application of an EU Directive, she said.

Ryanair had argued the origin of the dispute was a May 2018 letter from Fórsa while the regulator said the strikes seemed to have stemmed from Ryanair's decision not to accede to 11 minimum requirements set out by Forsa in that letter, she noted.

Ryanair had not shown "extraordinary circumstances" because it had not shown the events were not inherent in the normal exercise of its activity or were beyond its actual control, she held.

The regulator's decision that no extraordinary circumstances existed here was in accordance with a CJEU judgment and there was no "manifest error" in that decision, she ruled.

Orders will be made on a later date after the sides have considered the judgment. Gerard Downey BL, for Ryanair, indicated it may seek a stay on the court's decision.

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