A small change in the general sales conditions of Ryanair appeared on 2 October. It could have gone unnoticed, but Belgian newspapers La Libre Belgique and Le Soir were not duped. It’s hard not to see this as an attempt to discourage Belgian customers from claiming their rights.
The low-cost airline has unilaterally modified its general conditions of sale. From now on, a Belgian customer will no longer be able to assert his rights before a Belgian court but he will have to do so before a court in Ireland, where Ryanair is based. This means he will have to travel to Dublin and pay an Irish lawyer to appear in court.
So far, Ryanair has often appeared before Belgian courts: they deal on a weekly basis with many cases concerning the rights of passengers. And it has probably cost the airline a lot of money. But now it seems that Ryanair disputes the competence of Belgian courts, says Olivier Dugardyn, a lawyer specialising in tourism in La Libre Belgique. A new element has indeed appeared in the general sales conditions of the company on October 2, reports Le Soir. It states that “any dispute arising out of or in connection with this contract is within the jurisdiction of the Irish courts“.
This change could obviously deter a large number of Belgian passengers who want to claim justice from the airline. They will be forced to go to Ireland. “And this, possibly to recover a few hundred euros in the best case. To say that the customer will not do it,” says Olivier Dugardyn.
“We consider that this new provision is not valid,” reacts the claim recovery company Claim It in Le Soir. Claim It is now turning to the Court of Cassation which could take months or even years before taking a position.
Consumer advocacy association Test Achats/Aankoop also reacted with virulence. “Test Achats/Aankoop can only see the illegality of the practice. The wording and substance of this new clause can be considered abusive and contrary to European law and private international law. The attitude of the company is incomprehensible, to say the least,” says Test Achats/Aankoop.
The latter went back to past manoeuvers by Ryanair: “In the past, already following a lawsuit (injunction proceedings), Test Achats/Aankoop had denounced the provisions relating to appeals and complaints which obliged Belgian consumers to introduce their complaint in English to a point of contact located in Ireland. This practice had been abandoned under pressure Test Achats/Aankoop, although we know that Ryanair does everything to discourage the introduction of complaints or compensation claims. The latest evidence is the misinformation organised by the company during the strikes of the last two months, denying any form of compensation in the context of an internal social conflict”.
Test Achats/Aankoop recalls that it opened nearly 1400 dossiers, and 50 procedures for refusal to pay EU261 compensation (due to the passenger in case of a flight cancellation) were introduced at the end of August before the Justice of Peace (the lower court) of Zaventem and Charleroi. “These proceedings were initiated in the courts with the closest connection to the location of take-off of the aircraft concerned, in accordance with the rules of private international law and European law, as well as in accordance with a recent case law of the European Court of Justice, so things are clear,” continued Test Achats/Aankoop.
RTL Info said there is a simple way to avoid the Belgian unfavourable sales conditions of Ryanair: it consists of booking a ticket in France, Germany or The Netherlands, where different conditions apply.