According to a report by ECO, the Judicial Court of the District of Lisbon, within the scope of proceedings brought by passengers, has decided that passengers who saw their flights delayed or cancelled during the pandemic may be entitled to compensation provided for in EC Regulation 261/2004. This means that more than 200,000 passengers may be eligible for compensation.

Recent decisions by the Court of Lisbon indicate that passengers who have had their flights cancelled by airlines as a result of reduced passenger demand for travel, caused by fear of traveling or entry requirements in different countries (such as vaccination, submitting negative tests or complying with quarantine) are entitled to compensation.

According to Pedro Miguel Madaleno, a lawyer specialising in passenger law and representative of AirHelp in Portugal, “the judges understand that such cancellations do not confer the right to compensation when there is an effective prohibition by public authority for the flight or for the movement of people that would prevent actually carrying out the flight for reasons of obedience due to the authorities; however, in several cases, the companies have claimed 'restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic', and it is later demonstrated that there was no limitation or restriction on air activity on the date of the flight in question, with circulation possible."

The Court of Lisbon concluded that the airline was not forced to cancel the flight due to circumstances beyond its control, but rather that its realisation did not prove to be viable from an economic point of view due to the low demand for flights felt due to the pandemic. According to the Court, the decrease in demand for flights constitutes an economic and financial risk inherent in the exercise of any commercial activity with a profitable objective.

“Inherent risk”

“There are several situations that may be at the origin of the decrease in demand for flights, whether related to health or air disasters or others, and all of them are part of the inherent risk of any commercial activity carried out by any commercial company, as is the case with airlines”, says Pedro Miguel Madaleno.

On the other hand, the Lisbon Court also considers that delays in flights due to verification procedures and security measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic, to contain the virus, do not remove the right to compensation provided for in the aforementioned Regulation.

“The judges have understood that, in the case of flights operating in the midst of a pandemic, it was up to airlines to adopt new procedures suitable for carrying out cleaning and disinfecting of aircraft, namely increasing rotation times, spacing out more the arrivals of a flight and the departures of the next flight (operating by the same aircraft), which many did not do”, concluded the lawyer.

According to data collected by AirHelp, a world organization specializing in the defense of the rights of air passengers, during this period of the pandemic, 163,000 flights departing from Portugal were registered, which represents around 17 million air passengers.

During this period, more than 2,000 flights were cancelled and more than 20,000 flights were delayed. Thus, more than two million passengers were directly affected and 213,000 are eligible for compensation. It should be noted that the average compensation is around €400 per passenger.