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Aviation

When are strikes at the airport an extraordinary circumstance?

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Legal news
calendar 5 April 2021
globus Denmark

In two new decisions, the District Court of Copenhagen has ruled on delays due to external strikes. According to Regulation 261, the air carrier must prove that the strike is beyond their actual control, is not part of the normal course of activity and that all reasonable measures to avoid or minimize the delay have been taken. Both decisions from the District Court of Copenhagen showed that an external strike is usually considered an extraordinary circumstance.

The first case concerns a strike among the baggage handling staff at Copenhagen Airport, which delayed a flight by 1 hour and 18 minutes. This meant that the passengers did not reach their connecting flight and therefore arrived at the final destination with a delay of 5 hours and 46 minutes. The air carrier had no relation to the company responsible for baggage handling at the airport, and therefore did not in advance know the background of the strike or how long it would last. By the time the air carrier was informed of the strike, boarding of the aircraft had already begun and there was therefore no time to take any steps that could possibly have reduced the delay.

In the second case, a catering company went on strike, and therefore the air carrier distributed food vouchers to the passengers so they could provide themselves with food and drinks for the 13-hour flight. As all air carriers did the same that day, there was no more food in the terminal at the time of departure of the aircraft. The air carrier assessed that the only reasonable course of action was to have a layover in Stockholm to pick up supplies. The plane therefore arrived at its final destination with a delay of 4 hours and 35 minutes.

External strikes constituted extraordinary circumstances

The District Court of Copenhagen found that both strikes constituted extraordinary circumstances. In the first case, the Court emphasized that the strike among the baggage handling personnel had not been announced in advance, that the airline had started boarding when the strike was announced, and that the strike concerned personnel unrelated to the air carrier. Thus, the court found that the airline could not have acted differently to avoid or minimize the delay. In the second case, the District Court of Copenhagen in its decision emphasized that the strike had not been announced in advance and that the airline had taken all reasonable precautions by issuing food vouchers. Therefore, the court ruled that this was an extraordinary circumstance beyond the actual control of the airline.

IUNO’s opinion

A strike by a subcontractor, as in these two cases, is referred to as an external strike. As is clear from the two decisions, that type of strike is, in principle, an extraordinary circumstance because it is beyond the control and usual activity of the air carriers. IUNO recommends that air carriers in the event of external strikes ensure that they have taken all reasonable precautions to avoid or minimize the delay. The courts will always consider all the circumstances of a particular case. However, as the two decisions show, the courts will take into account, at what point the airline becomes aware of the strike.

[District Court of Copenhagen in case BS-11579/2019-KBH of 31 March 2020 and District Court of Copenhagen in case BS-18429/2019-KBH of 24 April 2020]

The first case concerns a strike among the baggage handling staff at Copenhagen Airport, which delayed a flight by 1 hour and 18 minutes. This meant that the passengers did not reach their connecting flight and therefore arrived at the final destination with a delay of 5 hours and 46 minutes. The air carrier had no relation to the company responsible for baggage handling at the airport, and therefore did not in advance know the background of the strike or how long it would last. By the time the air carrier was informed of the strike, boarding of the aircraft had already begun and there was therefore no time to take any steps that could possibly have reduced the delay.

In the second case, a catering company went on strike, and therefore the air carrier distributed food vouchers to the passengers so they could provide themselves with food and drinks for the 13-hour flight. As all air carriers did the same that day, there was no more food in the terminal at the time of departure of the aircraft. The air carrier assessed that the only reasonable course of action was to have a layover in Stockholm to pick up supplies. The plane therefore arrived at its final destination with a delay of 4 hours and 35 minutes.

External strikes constituted extraordinary circumstances

The District Court of Copenhagen found that both strikes constituted extraordinary circumstances. In the first case, the Court emphasized that the strike among the baggage handling personnel had not been announced in advance, that the airline had started boarding when the strike was announced, and that the strike concerned personnel unrelated to the air carrier. Thus, the court found that the airline could not have acted differently to avoid or minimize the delay. In the second case, the District Court of Copenhagen in its decision emphasized that the strike had not been announced in advance and that the airline had taken all reasonable precautions by issuing food vouchers. Therefore, the court ruled that this was an extraordinary circumstance beyond the actual control of the airline.

IUNO’s opinion

A strike by a subcontractor, as in these two cases, is referred to as an external strike. As is clear from the two decisions, that type of strike is, in principle, an extraordinary circumstance because it is beyond the control and usual activity of the air carriers. IUNO recommends that air carriers in the event of external strikes ensure that they have taken all reasonable precautions to avoid or minimize the delay. The courts will always consider all the circumstances of a particular case. However, as the two decisions show, the courts will take into account, at what point the airline becomes aware of the strike.

[District Court of Copenhagen in case BS-11579/2019-KBH of 31 March 2020 and District Court of Copenhagen in case BS-18429/2019-KBH of 24 April 2020]

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