In a recent first instance decision, the West London County
Court has ruled on the rights of and remedies available to
passengers following cancellation and delay of separate scheduled
passenger flights due to wildcat strike action at Barcelona
The claim was for out of pocket expenses (transportation, food
and accommodation) under EU Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 and
damages for alleged stress and anxiety due to (i) cancellation of
the claimants' flight from Barcelona to Milan on 28 July 2006,
and (ii) delay to the claimants' return flight on 30 July.
The outbound flight - Palma de Mallorca to Barcelona - was
performed without incident. However, upon landing at Barcelona
(where the claimants were to connect with the Milan flight) their
inbound aircraft was not permitted to disembark until the emergency
services were able to attend. This was due to an unfolding wildcat
strike at Barcelona's El Prat airport: AENA, the Spanish
Airport Authority, had announced its decision not to renew
Iberia's contract to provide baggage handling services at the
airport. Some of the striking Iberia workers blockaded the runway
and spread oil onto the runway, setting it alight. The airport was
closed to air traffic for the rest of the day, causing extensive
disruption to Iberia's network (and that of other carriers) for
several days. The claimants' scheduled Milan flight was
cancelled and their return flight on 30 July was subject to
Iberia argued that it was relieved from obligation to pay
compensation as disruption to its scheduled services had been
caused by extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been
avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken (Article
5(3)). Some 10,000 passengers were left stranded at the airport and
the army and police were called in to control the situation. Iberia
and other carriers were simply unable, through no fault of their
own, to operate flights out of Barcelona and/or (by reason of the
sheer numbers of passengers affected by the strike) to comply with
requirements under Article 9 to provide individual passengers with
Reference was made in oral submissions to Articles 5
(cancellation), 6 (delay), 7 (compensation), and 9 (right to care)
of the regulation.
The claimants argued that cancellation due to strike action did
not constitute extraordinary circumstances as the strike was
foreseeable and the defendants should have put in place a
contingency plan in the event that Iberia lost the baggage handling
contract. The Court agreed with defence submissions made by Barlow
Lyde & Gilbert LLP on behalf of Iberia and held that
cancellation of the outbound Milan flight due to the strike action
did indeed constitute extraordinary circumstances under the
regulation and so Iberia was relieved from obligation to pay
compensation to the claimants.
With regard to the delayed return flight, District Judge Ramsden
held that, whilst Iberia had breached Article 9 by not providing
the claimants with stipulated passenger assistance, there was no
civil claim for compensation. It was reiterated on behalf of the
defendant that providing assistance in the circumstances was
impossible. It was further argued by the defendant that the
existence of statutory instrument (SI) 975/2005 (The Civil Aviation
(Denied Boarding, Compensation and Assistance) Regulations 2005)
cannot be ignored. According to the SI, whilst a breach of article
9 of the regulation gives rise to a public law remedy, a civil
claim is effectively barred. In addition, there is a distinction to
be drawn in the language of Article 7 (compensation for
cancellation) and Article 9 (right to care) of the regulation. The
former gives rise to a right to compensation, the latter does
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