Air Passengers' Rights, "Extraordinary Circumstances," and General Principles of EU Law: Some Comments After the McDonagh Case

The McDonagh judgment of January 31, 2013 confirmed the Court of Justice of the European Union's will to ensure the highest level of protection of air passengers. Indeed, the Court rejected arguments aimed at releasing air carriers from their obligation to provide care and assistance during the ash disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. The solution adopted by the Court is driven by a strict and literal interpretation of EU Regulation No. 261/2004, in order to avoid any reduction of the rights granted to air passengers. The Court concluded that the eruption of the Icelandic volcano constituted an "extraordinary circumstance," and not a "super extraordinary circumstance" as was claimed by Ryanair. Consequently, the Court ruled that the ash disruption did not release the carriers from their obligation to provide care and assistance. However, this case once again highlights the weaknesses of Regulation 261/2004. Indeed, the factual circumstances of the case give new support to the issue already raised by airlines, that this Regulation causes a disproportionate economic burden for them. Moreover, this new chapter of the judicial dispute between airlines and EU institutions raises major concerns in terms of proportionality, equal treatment, and separation of powers principles. As a consequence, in the ongoing process of revising air passengers' rights, the lessons learned from the volcanic ash cloud crisis must not be forgotten since they revealed that the EU legislator needs to find a more balanced approach between passengers' rights and the economic interests of air carriers.


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  • Accession Number: 01528411
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 17 2014 3:02PM