Passengers denied compensation for air conditioning fault on board aircraft – Commentary

Facts
Decision
Comment

The Court of Appeal Frankfurt am Main(1) recently had to decide upon an appeal regarding a claim for pain and suffering after a flight was delayed and the air conditioning system failed while passengers were waiting in the aircraft before take-off.

Facts

The lawsuit was filed by a family of three with a two-year-old daughter who had booked a flight from Brindisi, Italy, to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in August 2018. Before the passengers could board the plane, they were advised that the flight was delayed by three hours. They eventually boarded the aircraft at 2:11pm.

The plane’s air conditioning system had broken down, so it was very warm on board. Of the family, only the young girl was given some water. At 2:56pm, the pilot announced that they would be taking off 15 minutes later. Since the crew could not open the doors in the meantime, some passengers called the police because they could not stand the heat in the plane.

The plane therefore had to return to the terminal. It was then announced that the flight would depart at 4:30pm. The family decided to board the plane so that they could reach their destination. The air conditioning, however, was still not working. The plane took off at 5:20pm, and landed in Frankfurt at 7:22pm, the final delay being more than six hours.

Because of the delay, the airline paid each family member €250 in compensation under the EU Flight Compensation Regulation.(2) The family claimed compensation for pain and suffering of an additional €650 per person. They stated that the temperature had reached over 50 degrees Celsius on board the plane and that the air was very difficult to breathe.

Decision

In the appeal ruling of 5 May 2022, the specialised Chamber on Travel Law of the Court of Appeal Frankfurt am Main denied the plaintiffs’ right to further compensation for pain and suffering. The chamber did not question that the plaintiffs had been considerably impaired by the heat on the plane.

However, damages for pain and suffering require an injury to body or health. According to the law, endangerment is not sufficient. The plaintiffs had not been able to prove that they had experienced circulation problems and headaches to the extent of an injury to their health. Compensation for pain and suffering due to deprivation of liberty was not possible either, because the plaintiffs had declared that they did not want to get off the plane; instead, they had decided to fly to their final destination and had therefore boarded the plane a second time after returning to the terminal.

Comment

This decision is final, and aligns with German national law. The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air did not apply – the failure of an air conditioning system should not be classified as an accident that falls under its scope. Under German national law, a claim for pain and suffering can only be granted if the health of a person is impaired. The burden of proof lay here within the claimants. It was not sufficient for the passengers to allege that they had experienced headaches or problems with blood circulation.

The decision aligns with German and European jurisprudence and prevents airlines from having to provide compensation as a result of abusive claims by passengers due to inconvenience suffered.

For further information on this topic please contact Sarah Joanna Haas at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 403 177 9756) or email ([email protected]). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.

Endnotes

(1) LG Frankfurt am Main, Ref. 2-24 S 16/20, Judgment from 5 May 2022.

(2) Article 5(3) and article 7(1) of EU Regulation No. 261/2004.