Good news for travelers, who will be able to benefit from it once the Covid-19 pandemic has passed and travel authorized again … and bad news for airlines which risk, in the months and years to come, facing strikes against a background of cost reduction or massive layoffs. The strike is not an extraordinary circumstance, ruled the CJEU.
The SAS company did not want to refund the ticket
It all started long before the crisis: in 2019. When a strike broke out among the pilots of the Scandinavian company SAS, the latter demanding better working conditions and, in particular, a salary increase, dozens of flights had been canceled. . The strike even lasted a week, disrupting the air traffic of the carrier for days.
However, these canceled flights did not lead to reimbursement: SAS believed that the strike could be considered an “extraordinary circumstance”, one of the reasons which allow the companies not to offer refunds. This is the case, for example, when a volcano erupts and the planes are pinned to the ground because to launch them is too dangerous.
But SAS had not counted on a passenger who, believing to be in his right concerning the reimbursement of his ticket, brought the case before the courts.
The passenger was right: the pilots’ strike paves the way for reimbursement
Seized in this case by the court of first instance of Sollentuna in Sweden, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) looked into the question. What was problematic in court was that the pilots’ strike which caused the flight to be canceled was announced and properly organized. The company could therefore have anticipated.
The CJEU recalled, in its verdict of 23 March 2021, that “ the concept of “extraordinary circumstance”, provided for by the regulation on the rights of air passengers, designates events which meet two cumulative conditions, compliance with which must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, namely, on the one hand, not be inherent, by their nature or origin, in the normal exercise of the activity of an air carrier and, on the other hand, escape the effective control of the latter ».
However, according to the CJEU, the strike in question having been properly organized and being linked to working conditions, the carrier cannot invoke the extraordinary circumstance clause: “ according to the Court, does not fall within the concept of “extraordinary circumstance”, within the meaning of the regulation on the rights of air passengers, a strike by the staff of an operating air carrier linked to claims relating to the labor relations between said carrier and its staff, likely to be dealt with within the framework of the company’s internal social dialogue, including salary negotiations. »
SAS company, like all other airlines if the same situation occurs, must therefore reimburse tickets for flights canceled due to a strike launched by its own employees.