The Court of Appeal has today handed down judgment dismissing a passenger’s claim for compensation arising from a delayed connecting flight. Had the case been decided in the claimant’s favour, it would have expanded very considerably the scope of compensation for delayed flights. As the Court of Appeal noted in its judgment, the consequences of the claimant’s arguments might have been “profound” for passengers and airlines.

The claimant, Ms Chelluri, booked flights from the US, via the UK, to India. Her flight from the UK to India was delayed by around 48 hours, and she claimed compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004, commonly known as the ‘Denied Boarding Regulation’. The operating carrier was Air India, which is registered outside of the European Economic Area. Therefore, under Article 3(1)(a) of the Regulation, Ms Chelluri would only be able to obtain compensation for a delay if she was deemed to be ‘departing’ from an airport within the EU.

Ms Chelluri argued that because one of the connecting flights had taken off from Heathrow Airport, she had ‘departed’ from the EU and therefore she should be considered within the territorial scope of the Regulation. The Court of Appeal rejected that argument, holding that it was bound by EU case law, which provided that a series of connecting flights is to be taken as a whole for the purpose of the Regulation, such that it has one point of departure (the first flight) and one final destination (the end point of the last flight).

In the Court of Appeal, Ms Chelluri argued that the relevant EU case law should be ‘read down’ such that passengers could recover compensation even if the delay only took place on a flight connecting via the EU, with a non-EU start and end point. Alternatively, Ms Chelluri argued that the Court of Appeal should exercise its new post-Brexit discretion to depart from EU case law when it is right to do so. In a judgment given by Lord Justice Coulson, with which the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith agreed, the Court of Appeal rejected both of Ms Chelluri’s arguments. This was one of the first cases to consider when it is appropriate to depart from EU jurisprudence, and the Court of Appeal affirmed that the power should be exercised “rarely and sparingly”, especially in cases where the absence of any changes in domestic or international law meant that there was no reason to depart from the existing case law.

Jacob Turner acted for the successful Defendant / Respondent, Air India, in the County Court and Court of Appeal. He was instructed by Saurabh Bhagotra and Daniel Powell of Zaiwalla & Co. A copy of the Court of Appeal Judgment is available here.