The business court of Charleroi (Belgium) this Friday sentenced Ryanair to compensate Happy Flights and AirHelp, two passenger claim companies representing many passengers, in cases of flights cancelled in autumn 2017.
A total of 172 claims have to be examined by the court, some of which have only recently been added and will not be decided until September. After several months of legal proceedings, the first judgement concerning 83 files was thus made this Friday.
Mr Jeroen De Man, a lawyer for both claimant companies, complained that Ryanair “uses every possible ploy to delay the court’s judgement“.
The airline was questioning the complainant’s status as a consumer since the latter called two commercial companies to defend his interests. Ryanair’s lawyer, Mr Charles Price, had also stressed that there is a specific procedure to be respected via the website of the company to claim a refund.
Another judgement will be delivered next Friday for dozens of other cancelled flights.
The statement of Happy Flights:
Underdog Happy Flights triumphs over price fighter Ryanair
Today Happy Flights received the long-awaited verdict in its lawsuit against Ryanair. A judgement, in this case, was originally expected at the end of October 2018. However, as the Irish airline took every opportunity to further delay the procedure, it was postponed until today.
Nearly two years after the massive flight cancellations in the autumn of 2017, we and 320 Ryanair passengers triumph with a ruling obliging Irish company to pay all victims their rightful compensation. Next week a ruling would follow in another 19 files.
The way to justice
Not only last summer were personnel problems the order of the day at low-cost company Ryanair. Also in the autumn of 2017, the Irish airline already had to contend with staff shortages due to wage problems and overdue vacation days with its pilots. Until March 2018, Ryanair, therefore, cancelled up to 50 flights per day.
Just like in the summer of 2018, Ryanair was there like no other in 2017 to assure passengers that they were not entitled to compensation for their cancelled flight. The Irish low-cost company waived its obligations through various channels by attributing the cancellations several times to so-called extraordinary circumstances.
Fortunately, hundreds of passengers found their way to Happy Flights, where they received advice and support for their flight problems. Based on our conviction that these victims were entitled to compensation in accordance with the European Regulation (EU261), Happy Flights sued the Irish airline at the end of last year in the name of no fewer than 375 passengers. This first wave of subpoenas was good for a claim amount of € 108,425. So today a ruling followed for 320 of them for a total amount of € 99 605.
After repeated victories in the courtroom, it would be expected that this time Ryanair took a more lenient approach to our reminders, but nothing could be further from the truth. Ryanair also forced the Happy Flights team to take legal action for the claims for damages in September and October 2017. Moreover, although a decision, in this case, was already expected at the end of October 2018, the Irish low-cost company seized every opportunity to delay the process.
The main reason for the delay was the discussion about the much-discussed article 2.4 from the Ryanair general terms and conditions. In this, Ryanair states that “Any dispute arising from or related to this contract [between the traveller and Ryanair] falls within the jurisdiction of the Irish courts“. In summary, with this clause, the Irish airline obliges its travellers to bring any dispute before the Irish courts.
This clause from Ryanair’s general terms and conditions has also been the subject of several discussions in the past. In fact, when the lawyers of Happy Flights already defended the interests of Ryanair victims in court in 2016 and 2017, this argument from Irish company was repeatedly rejected.
However, the trial between Happy Flights and Ryanair was not the only legal proceeding against the Irish price fighter. A similar case was pending in Bulgaria (Sofia), where the court asked the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the same Article 2.4. Following this event, Ryanair filed a request with the Tribunal de Commerce (business court) in Charleroi to reopen the debates that the judge also accepted.
After the question from Sofia was withdrawn from the European Court, the judge in the Business Court of Charleroi decided to rule on the case between Ryanair and Happy Flights. After months of proceedings, 320 victims today receive the redeeming verdict that Ryanair is ordered to pay their compensation.
The lawsuit between Happy Flights in Ghent and Irish low-cost airline Ryanair is reminiscent of the story of David and Goliath. While Ryanair maintained (and continues to maintain) some pride to be unbeatable, Happy Flights is once again making its mark.
Underdog sets an important precedent
Happy Flights can be called an underdog. In contrast to other agencies, we always maintain a mediating position and work for all dossiers according to the “no cure, no pay” principle: “For us, it is first and foremost important that the rights of the passengers are respected. We do not see ourselves as the enemy of the airlines, but rather an organization that puts the interests of travellers first,” said Steven Willems, CEO of Happy Flights. “In an ideal world, companies such as Happy Flights would not have to exist. Unfortunately, European legislation is all too often not respected. We see that because of the increasing number of legal cases that we have to bring.”
The recent judgement of the Business Court, however, sets an important precedent for future claims against Ryanair. With this ruling, Happy Flights now also has a stick for the two waves of subpoenas, for flights to and from other airports in the fall of 2017.
In addition, this ruling will also have an impact on the admissibility of damage claims filed with Happy Flights for flights cancelled by the Irish airline this summer.