On 15 January 2019, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that the failure of all computer systems at the check-in counters for several hours could be considered as an extraordinary circumstance as per Regulation (EC) 261/2004 to the effect that the passengers are not entitled to compensation in connection with a delayed or cancelled flight.
In the case decided by the Federal Court, the Plaintiffs claimed for compensation from the operating airline because of the delay of their flight from New York to London. Because of this delay, they did not reach their connecting flight from London to Stuttgart and arrived in Stuttgart nine hours later than planned. The airline refused the payment of compensation on the grounds that the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances since the computer systems at the airport were out of order for several hours to the effect that passengers could not be checked-in during that time.
The Federal Court of Justice held that a failure of all computer systems at the check-in counters of a terminal for several hours may constitute an extraordinary circumstance as per Regulation (EC) 261/2004 since the airport operator is responsible for operating the technical facilities of an airport. A system failure caused by a technical defect impairing or suspending the functionality of such equipment over a longer period of time is an external event affecting the air carrier's flight operations and influencing its operation. In any event, such an event cannot be controlled by the air carrier as the monitoring, maintenance and repair of such facilities is beyond its responsibility and competence.
The Federal Court further held that the airline must have taken all reasonable measures to avoid the extraordinary circumstance. It considered the manual check-in of the passengers by the airline staff over the telephone to be sufficient. The court took the view that the airline was not required to switch to the technical facilities of another terminal.
Finally, the Federal Court took the view that it is irrelevant whether the airline could have postponed the departure of the connecting flight, whether it could have rebooked the Plaintiffs to another flight from London to Stuttgart or whether it could have operated an alternative flight to the Plaintiffs' final destination as these measures would not have prevented the considerable delay of the flight from New York to London.
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