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This case sets precedent that natural events do not fall beyond “extraordinary circumstances” so airlines are responsible for reimbursing passengers for money spent until their next available flight.

Ryanair flouted EU rules by refusing compensation to a passenger who was stranded by the volcanic ash cloud in 2010, the European Union’s court of justice has ruled.

The case relates to Denise McDonagh from Ireland whose flight from Faro to Dublin, scheduled for 17 April 2010, was cancelled because of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. As a result of the ensuing ash cloud, airspace over a number of EU countries – including Ireland – was closed between 15 and 22 April 2010, because of the risks to aircraft.

She asked for €1,130 (£942) in damages, to cover the cost of meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport, but Ryanair rejected her claim saying that the ash cloud went beyond “extraordinary circumstances”, which, if true, could exempt the airline from its obligation to provide care to passengers.

The case went to the district court in Dublin and last March Yves Bot, the advocate general of the European court ruled in McDonagh’s favour. This has now been upheld by the EU court of justice.

The court said that it did not recognise a separate category of “particularly extraordinary” events, beyond “extraordinary circumstances” and that all airlines must provide care to passengers when flights are cancelled.

“This ruling is applicable to all airlines across the EU,” said Christopher Fretwell, a spokesman for the EU court of justice. “When a flight is cancelled all airlines must provide care to affected passengers. This includes meals, accommodation where necessary and transport from the airport to that accommodation and back.”

The wording of the ruling also said: “All the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing. The court states that the provision of care to passengers is particularly important in the case of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which persist over a long time and it is precisely in situations where the waiting period occasioned by the cancellation of a flight is particularly lengthy that it is necessary to ensure that throughout that period.”

The exact amount payable to McDonagh is still to be determined by the court in Dublin but must be an amount that is “necessary, appropriate and reasonable to make up for the shortcomings of the air carrier”.

In advance of an official statement, a Ryanair spokesman said the financial cost to Ryanair would not go beyond the McDonagh case as it has already settled all other similar claims from passengers.

The news comes in a week of victories for air passengers seeking compensation. Earlier this week a judge in Staffordshire awarded a couple £680 after their Thomas Cook flight was delayed in 2009. It is believed to be the first time a judge has made a ruling based on the new European legislation that entitles people to £480 plus expenses per person when a flight is delayed by more than three hours.


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Tags: lawsuits, ryanair

Photo credit: Ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland cancelled flights across Europe for a week in April 2010. Soring / Flickr

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