DÜSSELDORF Thousands of cancelled flights and more than 1,000 delays longer than three hours. These statistics from 2018 have resulted in a significant increase in lawsuits against the airline Eurowings. Many customers are demanding compensation.
2018 will be remembered by passengers as the year with the most delays and cancellations in German and European air traffic so far. And now it has become clear just how much Eurowings, the market leader, is affected by the flood of complaints and lawsuits. Although the company has gained great market power by taking over large parts of Air Berlin, the many delays are costly.
"More lawsuits than ever"
The air passenger rights company Fairplane reports that they began around 11,000 proceedings against Eurowings in 2018, compared to 3,400 in 2017. "Customers want their compensation for damages," explains company spokesman Roland Schmid. Hamburg lawyer Moritz Diekmann is currently pursuing 427 lawsuits against the airline: "This is the first time that Eurowings has been awarded the top spot ahead of Ryanair thanks to the difficult year 2018," he says. "We are conducting more proceedings than ever before."
A spokeswoman for a Cologne court reported that "significantly more lawsuits were being filed against airlines", often involving Eurowings. In Düsseldorf, the number of lawsuits filed by passengers at the district court in 2018 rose to more than 11,000, compared with only around 5,000 in 2017. Eurowings was involved in 4,000 legal disputes in 2018, four times more than in 2017.
The reasons for the problems are obvious: after Air Berlin went under in 2017, Eurowings had absorbed a large part of the fleet, but integration was much slower than expected. Add to that, thunderstorms and strikes by air traffic control caused further turbulence - Eurowings cancelled around 5,200 flights in 2018, Lufthansa more than 12,000. And Eurowings had delays of more than three hours in 1,400 cases, Lufthansa in 1,040 cases, reports the complaints portal EUClaim. Ryanair ranks third with 900 delays.
It isn't wise for passengers claiming damages to go directly to court or to bring their claim to a lawsuit firm such as EUClaim or Fairplane. The Hamburg lawyer Diekmann offers a form letter online with which customers can formulate a legally correct letter of complaint to handle their case on their own. "The crucial thing is to set a deadline for the reply," he says.
Consumer protectors advise that in the event of a significant delay or cancellation of a flight, the arbitration board for public transport (SÖP) in Berlin should be consulted. As a first step, passengers must first try to claim compensation from the airline.
The lawyers of the SÖP then have the task as arbitrators to consider whether the claims of the passengers are justified. It is usually not disputed whether a delay was really longer than three hours or whether a flight was cancelled, instead it’s about whether the airline can reasonably refuse payment.
"If a thunderstorm or a strike affected the flight, the airline does not have to compensate", says one lawyer, "whereas the airline has to pay for its own shortcomings". Christof Berlin, head of SÖP, says: "We also examine complicated cases at no cost to citizens. In doing so, he distances himself from the complaint companies that collect part of the compensation. A complaint under EU law is worthwhile for passengers: for flights up to 1,500 kilometers in length, delays of more than three hours per person cost airlines 250 euros, up to 3,500 kilometers 400 euros, and for flights longer than that 600 euros. Orig. text: Reinhard Kowalensky
Translation: Carol Kloeppel