The EU Rights in the Spotlight section for this month features two rulings affecting the right of air crew members to bring disputes on employment contracts before the courts of the place where they habitually carry out their work and the right of airline passengers to obtain compensation in the event of a long delay on a connecting flight.
In disputes relating to their employment contracts, air crew members have the option of bringing proceedings before the courts of the place where they perform the essential part of their duties vis-à-vis their employer
On 14 September, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that, in the event of proceedings being brought by air crew members and concerning employment contracts, the Court of the place where the employee habitually carries out their work has jurisdiction to hear the dispute, regardless the inclusion or not in the contract of a jurisdiction clause conferring jurisdiction to a different Court.
The judgment follows a proceeding started before the Mons Higher Labour Court in March 2016 by six airline cabin crew employees who had employment contracts with Ryanair and Crewlink. Ryanair challenged the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts over the dispute, claiming that the employment contracts were subject to Irish law and included a jurisdiction clause conferring jurisdiction on the Irish courts as regards any disputes. In addition to this, according to the contracts, the work of the employees had to be considered as carried out in Ireland since their duties were mainly performed on board aircraft registered in Ireland. However, such contracts designated Charleroi Airport in Belgium as the employees’ “home base”.
In order to determine its jurisdiction to hear the dispute, the Mons Court submitted in March 2016 to the ECJ a preliminary request concerning the interpretation of the concepts of ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’ (envisaged in the EU Regulation on jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters) and that of ‘home base’ (within the meaning of an EU regulation in the field of civil aviation).
In its judgment, the ECJ affirmed that European rules concerning jurisdiction are aimed at protecting the weaker party and that the concept of ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’ should be interpreted as “the place where, or from which, the employee in fact performs the essential part of his duties vis-à-vis his employer”.
Such a concept cannot be equated with either the nationality of the aircraft or with the concept of ‘home base’, which constitutes a “significant indicium for the purposes of determining the ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work”.
Finally, in line with the reasoning of the Mons Court, the Court stated that a jurisdiction clause agreed in the contracts before the start of the dispute and prohibiting employees from bringing proceedings before courts that have jurisdiction under EU legislation is not enforceable.
The compensation payable to passengers in the event of cancellation or long delay of a connecting flight must be calculated according to the radial distance between the departure and arrival airports
In September, the ECJ ruled that the amount of compensation that airline passengers are entitled to claim for the cancellation or long delay of a connecting flight has to be calculated only on the basis of the radial distance (‘great circle’ distance) that a direct flight would cover between the departure airport and the arrival airport, even if the actual distance covered by the flight is greater because of the connection.
The judgment is a result of a preliminary request submitted by the Hamburg Local Court to the ECJ in order to resolve proceedings brought by three airline passengers against Brussels Airlines SA/NV with the aim of obtaining compensation for a delay of 3 hours and 50 minutes on their connecting flight from Rome to Hamburg.
According to the Court, the EU regulation on compensation and assistance to airline passengers makes no distinction between direct or connecting flights when calculating the total amount of compensation. The nature of the flight has, indeed, no impact on the extent of the inconvenience suffered by the passengers, who must be treated equally when calculating the amount of compensation.
On the basis of this considerations, the Court affirmed that “the concept of ‘distance’ relates, in the case of air routes with connecting flights, only to the distance calculated between the first point of departure and the final destination on the basis of the ‘great circle’ method, regardless of the distance actually flown.”