The Market Court did not agree with the Consumer Ombudsman in a case involving Finnair. The Consumer Ombudsman took Finnair Plc to the Market Court for breach of air passengers’ rights in the autumn of 2017. The case involves Finnair’s practices relating to the awarding of standard compensation for flight delays and cancellations pursuant to an EU Regulation and contract terms that the Consumer Ombudsman believes prevent consumers from exercising their statutory rights.
In its ruling of 4 January 2019, the Market Court found that there is nothing in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union according to which the “extraordinary circumstances” referred to in the Regulation could only be demonstrated in advance in a specific preordained manner in the case of technical faults. The Market Court rejected the Consumer Ombudsman’s claims on these grounds.
In respect of the Consumer Ombudsman’s claim concerning misleading information, the Market Court found that the Consumer Ombudsman’s petition for an injunction was not sufficiently specific. According to the Court, it was not enough to call attention to the details in the written justifications for the petition and verbally at the oral proceedings.
The Consumer Ombudsman still maintains that Finnair has provided consumers with misleading information.
“This ruling is a huge disappointment from the perspective of consumers. The Consumer Ombudsman still maintains that Finnair has prevented consumers from exercising their rights by not paying statutory standard compensation in compensable situations. Finnair has misled consumers by denying them the standard compensation to which they are entitled under mandatory EU laws, by offering lesser compensation in the form of gift vouchers and by simultaneously withholding information about consumers’ actual rights. We will appeal the Market Court’s ruling to the Supreme Court in order to protect consumers as a collective and to ensure their rights” , says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.
At the core of the Consumer Ombudsman’s petition to the Market Court was the fact that Finnair has refused to pay standard compensation on grounds that are not acceptable under the EU Regulation or case law. Consumers have been offered financial benefits in the form of the company’s own deals, such as gift vouchers, when they would have been entitled to the full amount of compensation payable under the Regulation. Consumers have been given misleading information about the grounds on which Finnair can refuse to pay standard compensation.
The Consumer Ombudsman’s petition to the Market Court was based on 13 cases and 11 different Finnair flights between September 2015 and January 2017. The cases were a random sample of the hundreds of reports entered into the Consumer Ombudsman’s and the Consumer Advisory Service’s shared database, and they reflect the way in which Finnair deals with customers in the event of flight delays and cancellations. Among the undisputed facts of the cases cited as evidence to support the petition are that the flights had been delayed or cancelled, that the flights had been governed by the Regulation, that Finnair had applied the Regulation and that Finnair had denied the passengers standard compensation or deferred their right to standard compensation on the grounds that, according to Finnair, the delays or cancellations had been due to extraordinary circumstances as referred to in Article 5(3) of Regulation (EU) No 261/2004.
However, the Market Court case was not about individual disputes but protecting the entire body of consumers against Finnair’s unlawful practices. The Consumer Disputes Board, for example, is also dealing with numerous disputes between individual consumers and Finnair. The Consumer Advisory Service has also provided advice to hundreds of consumers claiming compensation from Finnair in recent years.
The Consumer Ombudsman and the Finnish Transport Safety Agency engaged Finnair in lengthy negotiations in order to reach an amicable settlement before taking the case to the Market Court.
Market Court’s desicion MAO:1/19 (4.1.2019) (in Finnish)