Volcanic eruption does not limit airlines' care liability: advocate

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Volcanic eruption falls within the classification of extraordinary circumstances under which carriers must provide care to passengers whose flights are cancelled, the European Court of Justice advocate general states.

Advocate general Yves Bot put forward the opinion - amounting to guidance before a formal ruling - following a case involving a passenger whose Ryanair flight had been cancelled in April 2010 when Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano closed large parts of European airspace.

The Dublin court hearing the dispute sought the advice of the Court of Justice as to whether the eruption counted as "extraordinary circumstances" - which would require the airline to pay costs of care - or whether it fell within a category of events "above and beyond", which would free the airline from the obligation.

Bot says the notion of extraordinary circumstances is "not defined" in European law but, in his view, all events meeting that description are "bracketed together" leaving "no room for a separate category of 'particularly extraordinary' events".

In consequence, the advocate general concludes that circumstances such as the closure of airspace owing to the eruption of a volcano constitute extraordinary circumstances for the purposes of EU law," says the Court of Justice.

Ryanair retorts that the regulations amount to "blatant discrimination" which expose airlines to unlimited liability, and says it hopes the court will - despite the advocate general's opinion - still find in the Irish carrier's favour. It adds that the hearing is a test case, and that other claims have been settled.