Skipping the first and last legs of flights and EU law.

Over the past few months there have been a few interesting cases when it comes to the rules governing air travel in Europe.

Firstly, why would you want to skip the first or the last segment of a flight?  In short, for readers of this blog who are based in the UK, it has some of the highest prices for premium cabin travel in the EU, even when adjusted for the devaluation of the Pound Sterling in relation to the Euro (and other currencies).

In this article, I explain how you can take advantage of an ex-EU ticket, and some of the things that you need to look out for in order to take advantage of such a journey.

There have now been three decisions, in three European countries that relate to skipping the first or last segment of multi-sector tickets.

Case No. 1 – Germany

Most recently, there was a non-binding decision in a German court [link in German] in relation to a passenger who was charged €2,100 by Lufthansa for missing the final segment of a flight that originated and ended in Oslo.

The passenger instead of ending his flight in Oslo, decided to get off in Frankfurt, and then take a separate ticket from Frankfurt to Berlin (also with Lufthansa).  Lufthansa didn’t like this, so attempted to re-price his ticket ending in Frankfurt and tried to charge him the new fare of €2,100.  He took them to court, Lufthansa tried to settle out of court, however he proceeded to a preliminary ruling and won.

My understanding of the German legal system is very limited, however I understand this is non-binding and in a relatively low court.  Lufthansa I’m sure could appeal this if they wanted to, but my understanding is that they are unlikely to do so.

Case No. 2 – Spain

In a very similar ruling in Spain [link in Spanish], the Supreme Court there has ruled on a number of clauses in Iberia’s terms and conditions.  In this case, they decided that if you no-show for the first segment (or indeed any segment of your ticket), the airline cannot unilaterally cancel the rest of it.

Normally what will happen if you no-show for a segment, the airline will automatically cancel the rest of the ticket.  You’d then have to pay to have it re-fared, or for an entirely new ticket.  This has been ruled illegal and they have to let you travel on what you have paid for.

Case No. 3 – Italy

The final case relates to a very similar situation in Italy with British Airways and Etihad who were both fined €1m by the Italian Competition Authorities.

Like the Spanish case, the ruling allows you to skip the first (or last) segment and still travel on the rest of the itinerary.  However, the passenger does need to give notice within 24 hours of departure (two hours in case of round trip within the same day) of their intention to use the return ticket (and any subsequent coupons).

Thoughts

In terms of skipping the first segment of a ticket bought in either Spain or Italy, I am still not going to try this.

If you do try this, I would strongly urge you to have sufficient funds, time and the language skills to be comfortable buying an entirely brand new ticket and suing the airline for the difference, in the extremely likely scenario that you’re denied boarding.

That said, in terms of skipping the last segment of a trip, I have done this a number of times before, albeit not frequently.  I have far fewer qualms about this as generally it’s a lot easier to do on the way back from a trip.

This is clearly an evolving piece of law within the EU and it seems that finally European consumer legislation in a number of countries is catching up to the realities of the 21st century and doing business in a friendly way.

I strongly suspect that in due course, we’ll see a case in the UK (Brexit excepted) and I would probably bet a couple of gin and tonics that the consumer would eventually prevail (but not without a fight).

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