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The case of ZX v. Ryanair: hollowing out air passenger rights

The CJEU’s judgment in the case of ZX v. Ryanair, delivered on 11 April 2019, has gone a step further in hollowing out airline passenger’s rights.

The EU Airline Passengers Regulation, in force since 2005, was originally meant to create a near automatic right to compensation for airline passengers in cases of cancellation, long delays or denied boarding. The near automatic nature of this compensation was offset, in part, by the scarce amount at stake (ranging from 250€ on short-haul flights to a maximum of 600€ on long-haul intercontinental flights).

In line with the near automatic nature of the compensation, the Regulation also called for the creation of national enforcement bodies. Ironically, though, these national enforcement bodies have no enforcement authority at all. Passengers must turn to judicial authorities if the airline does not comply with its obligations under the Regulation.

Against this backdrop, the CJEU’s judgment in ZX v. Ryanair may have placed the last nail on the coffin of air passenger rights. In this case, a Spanish passenger suffered a long delay in a Barcelona-Oporto flight operated by Ryanair, an Irish company. As Ryanair failed to compensate, the Spanish passenger filed a lawsuit claiming the amount of 250€. The lawsuit was lodged before the courts of Girona, where Ryanair has a branch. However, Ryanair contested the jurisdiction of Spanish courts, alleging that it must be sued where its corporate seat is located (ie. Ireland).

The CJEU finally upheld Ryanair’s standpoint, declaring that “a court of a Member State does not have jurisdiction to hear a dispute concerning a claim for compensation brought […] against an airline established in the territory of another Member State, on the ground that that company has a branch within the territorial jurisdiction of the court seised”.

It should be noted that the CJEU’s ruling is perfectly in line with the existing rules of private international law. However, it goes clearly against the interests of airline passengers at a time when flight delays and cancellations are growing at double digit rates. Faced with enforcement bodies that do not enforce, and unable to turn to local judicial authorities, passengers will be well advised to buy a travel insurance policy covering the risk of cancellation, long delays or denied boarding ahead of their flight.