The European Court of Justice rules that airlines had a duty of care to passengers during the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010.
Irish airline Ryanair should have paid compensation to passengers left stranded because of the volcanic ash cloud that caused travel chaos in 2010, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The ECJ said that airlines had a duty to look after passengers, even in exceptional circumstances such as the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which led to the closure of most of northern Europe's airspace for more than a week in April 2010.
The ruling arises from a case brought by Denise McDonagh, of Dublin, who was booked on a Ryanair flight from Faro to Dublin on 17 April 2010. The flight was cancelled because of the ash cloud and she was unable to return to Dublin until 24 April.
McDonagh said she spent €1,130 on accommodation, food and transport during her unplanned extra week in Portugal, and wanted compensation from the airline.
Ryanair refused to pay out, saying that the eruption of the volcano was so extraordinary that normal rules should not apply. But the ECJ disagreed, saying that extraordinary circumstances “do not release air carriers from their obligation to provide care”.
European Union rules on passenger rights do not “provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances", the ECJ said.
"Thus, all the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing."
An Irish court will now decide on the amount of compensation that Ryanair must pay to McDonagh.
Ryanair says it has paid out more than €26 million in compensation to stranded passengers, but it has refused many claims, citing excessive costs.The airline said it was disappointed at the ECJ ruling, which would allow passengers to claim for delays that are ''clearly and unambiguously outside of an airline's control”.
''Today's decision will materially increase the cost of flying across Europe and consumer airfares will increase as airlines will be obliged to recover the cost of these claims from their customers,'' the company said.
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