Passengers are entitled to seek compensation for delayed flights operated by non-EU carriers on behalf of airlines based within the union, according to a ruling made today by the EU’s top court.

The Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision comes in the wake of a string of rulings strengthening passengers’ rights to be compensated for delays or cancellations.

223-minute delay

The case decided upon on Thursday related to a group of three travellers and their experience after making a reservation via a travel agency with German carrier Lufthansa to travel from Brussels to San José in California, US.

The entire journey, consisting of two flights with a layover at Newark Airport in New Jersey, was operated by US-based airline United Airlines, with whom it shares a codeshare agreement with Lufthansa.

This type of agreement allows one airline to market flights operated by another airline and vice versa.

United B777
Although marketed by Lufthansa, the passengers’ entire journey was operated by US-based United Airlines | © Marco Macca / TravelRadar

The passengers arrived in California three hours and 43 minutes later than scheduled and, after having found no existing means of seeking compensation directly from United, decided to pursue legal action in a Dutch court.

Operating airline can seek compensation itself

At a preliminary hearing in October 2020, the CJEU agreed the claim was admissible and that the non-EU carrier may be liable.

Thursday’s ruling backed the three’s claim, arguing that United should refund passengers and then seek compensation themselves from any third parties involved.

“Passengers of a delayed flight may claim compensation from a non-EU air carrier where that carrier operates the entirety of the flight on behalf of an EU carrier. The operating air carrier which is obliged to compensate a passenger retains the right to seek compensation from any person, including third parties, in accordance with the applicable national law.”

At the time of writing, United have not released a statement regarding the Luxembourg-based court’s judgment. Whether it pursues what the CJEU seems to suggest, and compensates the passengers and then perhaps seeks reimbursement from Lufthansa is yet to be seen.

Do you agree with the EU’s judgement? Let us know in the comments below.

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