Strike-hit airlines not free from compensation obligations

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European judges have ruled that carriers that reschedule flights as a result of a strike are not excused from compensating passengers who, by knock-on effects, are denied boarding.

The judgement, handed down by the European Court of Justice, follows a case involving Finnair which had cancelled a flight from Barcelona on 28 July 2006 following a strike by airport staff.

Finnair rescheduled flights to clear the backlog. But this resulted in some passengers, booked to fly two days later, being shunted to a later service when they presented themselves for boarding.

A Finnish district court had originally rejected a bid for compensation by one of these passengers, ruling that the denial of boarding had been caused by extraordinary circumstances and had not been the result of overbooking for economic reasons.

But an appeal court disagreed and ordered Finnair to compensate the passenger. Finnair's own appeal led the country's supreme court to seek clarification from the European Court of Justice.

The resulting judgement states that the concept of denied boarding should not apply only to overbooking but also to cases where boarding is denied on other grounds, such as operational reasons.

It adds that extraordinary circumstances which result in an airline's rescheduling flights "cannot give grounds" for denying boarding to passengers booked on those later flights - nor can this scenario exempt the airline from compensating passengers affected.