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No compensation for missed flight due to security check delays

In its latest decision (III ZR 48/17), the Federal Court of Justice has reiterated that passengers are responsible for their own schedules and must allow sufficient time for airport security checks.

Facts

The plaintiff claimed compensation against the state for a missed flight following delays during the security check at Frankfurt Airport.

The plaintiff had arrived at the security check with his family at approximately 4:00am, having checked in his family’s luggage the previous day. Boarding was scheduled for 4:30am and take-off for 4:55am. During the security check, it was suspected that the plaintiff’s partner’s carry-on bag contained plastic explosives. It took approximately 40 minutes before the suspicion proved to be unfounded.

As a result, the family missed their flight and had to buy new tickets. The plaintiff claimed the price of said tickets from the state.

The Frankfurt Regional Court upheld the claim, whereas the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court dismissed it.

Decision

The Federal Court of Justice confirmed that there is no general rule as to when a passenger needs to arrive at the security check. However, the court held that the question of punctuality with respect to airport security calls for a full and comprehensive evaluation of circumstances, including local conditions such as the airport’s size and flight frequency.

The court added that each passenger must allow sufficient time to accommodate airport security checks, which may take considerable time due to operating procedures that neither passengers nor security staff can easily control.

Further, passengers must not take risks with punctuality voluntarily, even if permitted, lest they be willing to face the consequences. Passengers who arrive at airport security less than one hour before their flight’s departure and 30 minutes before boarding put themselves in a risky situation that could have been avoided; should something unexpected occur, they must deal with the consequences.

Comment

Generally, airport security checks are the State’s responsibility (see Section 5(1) of the Aviation Security Act). Therefore, the state can be held liable for a delay at airport security if:

  • it was not caused by the passenger; and
  • the security check was not carried out in an ordinary manner (eg, there were arbitrary delays and disorganised security procedures).

The Federal Court of Justice’s decision confirms that under German jurisdiction, no set timeframe exists within which passengers must arrive at airport security. According to the court, this depends on a number of circumstances, including:

  • airport size and flight frequency;
  • travel times (eg, whether the flight falls during a holiday season); and
  • airline and airport recommendations.

Despite the apparent lack of legal certainty, this recent decision may lead to more flexible case-by-case judgments. Encouragingly, the Federal Court of Justice considered the fact that airports, airlines and the state (including state employees and any companies entrusted with fulfilling sovereign functions) are not solely responsible for losses incurred from delays at airport security, but that every passenger has their own obligations and responsibilities.

This article, written by L2b Aviation member Sybill Rexer with Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein, was originally published in International Law Office on June 27, 2018.

 

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