Ryanair ash cloud case: EU's top court rules against airline

Ryanair plane taking off from Barcelona - file pic Ryanair and other airlines incurred big losses in the ash cloud disruption

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Ryanair should have fully compensated a passenger whose flight was cancelled because of the volcanic ash cloud in 2010, the EU's top court has said.

On such occasions there is no limit - in time or money - to the airline's duty to look after its passengers, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled.

Denise McDonagh had a seven-day wait for a Faro-Dublin flight on Ryanair and said she spent nearly 1,130 euros (£968) on a hotel, food and transport.

Her compensation has not yet been paid.

Ryanair had argued the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano was so extraordinary that normal rules should not apply.

But the judges' ruling - now binding across the EU - said such events "constitute 'extraordinary circumstances' which do not release air carriers from their obligation to provide care".

Unacceptable hazard

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The EU regulation on passenger rights "does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances", the ECJ said.

"Thus, all the obligations to provide care to passengers are imposed on the air carrier for the whole period during which the passengers concerned must await their re-routing."

Ryanair has already paid out 27m euros to compensate people left stranded by the ash cloud, BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott reports.

The airline is not expecting a rush of new claims, because it has settled its ash cloud debts already, our correspondent adds. But it had hoped to win the case in order to limit such claims in the future.

Much of north Europe's airspace was closed for more than a week in April 2010, as the volcano spewed dust into the atmosphere.

Aviation officials feared the dust could stop jet engines - an unacceptable hazard - and Ms McDonagh was among the thousands left stranded.

The ECJ ruling on Thursday said an Irish court must decide the amount of compensation to which Ms McDonagh is entitled. Her case had been referred to the ECJ by the Dublin Metropolitan District Court, which had sought clarification of EU law.

The passenger is entitled to "reimbursement of the amounts which proved necessary, appropriate and reasonable to make up for the shortcomings of the air carrier", the ECJ said.

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