Passengers Denied Compensation for Air Conditioning Failure on Planes – Commentary

Facts
Decision
Comment

The Frankfurt am Main Court of Appeal(1) recently had to rule on an appeal concerning a complaint of pain and suffering after a delayed flight and a breakdown of the air conditioning system while passengers waited in the plane before takeoff.

Facts

The lawsuit was brought by a family of three with a two-year-old daughter who had booked a flight from Brindisi, Italy, to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in August 2018. Before passengers could boarding the plane, they were informed that the flight was delayed for three hours. They finally boarded the plane at 2:11 p.m.

The plane’s air conditioning system had broken down, so it was very hot on board. From the family, only the girl received water. At 2:56 p.m., the pilot announced that he would take off 15 minutes later. As the crew couldn’t open the doors in the meantime, some passengers called the police because they couldn’t stand the heat on the plane.

The plane therefore had to return to the terminal. It was then announced that the flight would take off at 4:30 p.m. The family decided to board the plane so they could reach their destination. The air conditioning, however, still did not work. The plane took off at 5:20 p.m. and landed in Frankfurt at 7:22 p.m., with the final delay being more than six hours.

Due to the delay, the airline paid each family member €250 in compensation under the EU Flight Compensation Regulation.(2) The family claimed compensation for pain and suffering from an additional amount of €650 per person. They said the temperature reached over 50 degrees Celsius on board the plane and the air was very difficult to breathe.

Decision

In the appeal judgment of May 5, 2022, the travel law chamber of the Frankfurt am Main Court of Appeal denied the plaintiffs’ right to additional compensation for pain and suffering. The chamber did not dispute that the complainants had been considerably weakened by the heat in the plane.

However, damages for pain and suffering require injury to body or health. According to the law, endangerment is not enough. The plaintiffs had not been able to prove that they had experienced circulation problems and headaches commensurate with the damage to their health. Compensation for pain and suffering due to the deprivation of liberty was not possible either, because the plaintiffs had declared that they did not want to get off the plane; instead, they decided to fly to their final destination and so boarded the plane a second time after returning to the terminal.

Comment

This decision is final and in accordance with German national law. The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air did not apply – the failure of an air conditioning system should not be classified as an accident within its scope. Under German national law, a claim for pain and suffering can only be granted if a person’s health is impaired. The burden of proof here was on the plaintiffs. It was not enough for the passengers to allege that they had had headaches or blood circulation problems.

The decision aligns with German and European case law and prevents airlines from having to provide compensation following abusive claims by passengers due to inconvenience suffered.

For more information on this, please contact Sarah Joanna Haas at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by phone (+49 403 177 9756) or email ([email protected]). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website is accessible at the address www.asd-law.com.

Endnotes

(1) LG Frankfurt am Main, Ref. 2-24 S 16/20, Judgment of May 5, 2022.

(2) Article 5(3) and Article 7(1) of EU Regulation No. 261/2004.

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