When the plane takes off ahead of schedule

It often happens that airlines cancel or bring forward a flight without informing their passengers. Customers who are victims of such a cancellation may claim, in addition to the reimbursement of their ticket or their rerouting, compensation (from 250 to 600 euros, depending on the planned distance).

On the other hand, those who are victims of an advancement of schedule having made them miss their plane cannot claim anything.

In fact, the European regulation 261/2004, which governs the rights of air passengers, does not provide for a sanction for the carrier, in this case. The question of advancement is only addressed indirectly: it says (article 5-c) that the carrier which cancels a flight less than two weeks before departure but which offers the passenger to reroute it from one to two hours before the scheduled time is exempt from its obligation to compensate. It thus seems to tolerate an advance of two hours maximum.

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In 2018, several German travelers who were victims of advancements of one to three hours took legal action; they claimed that their flights should be considered canceled, which would entitle them to compensation. Their carriers, Azurair GmbH and Corendon Airlines, objected. The Regional Court of Düsseldorf therefore asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to decide.

“Among the most irritating situations”

the September 23, 2021, Priit Pikamäe, Advocate General in charge of the case, considers that only the advancement « important » of a flight must be “considered a cancellation”, because he can “cause serious inconvenience for passengers, in the same way as a delay”.

If they are informed at the last moment of a progress of several hours, they must reorganize their schedule.

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If they are not informed, they miss their plane, even though they arrived at the airport several hours in advance. “Missing a flight in [ces] circumstances is among the most irritating situations an air passenger can imagine,” assures the Estonian magistrate.

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Mr Pikamäe considers that the provisions of Regulation 261/2004, which allow an advancement of one to two hours, but no more, “obviously have the objective of preventing the advancement of the departure time (…) exceeds one to two hours”. Taking these thresholds as a reference, he proposes to judge that a flight must be considered canceled when it is advanced “at least two hours”.

The Court goes further, on December 21, 2021 (C‑146/20 and C‑188/20) : it ruled that a flight must be considered canceled when the carrier advances it by ” More than an hour “, without informing the passenger, who can then claim the compensation provided for in the event of cancellation. What a nice Christmas present for passengers, this new piece of European jurisprudence!


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Mark Holland

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