(CN) - Europe's highest court reinforced tough sanctions Tuesday against airlines whose flights arrive over three hours late or otherwise result in missed connections.
The Court of Justice had taken up the case on appeal from a federal German court decision that ordered Air France to pay nearly $750 for causing a woman to miss two connecting flights on her way to Asuncion, Paraguay.
Luz-Tereza Folkerts had planned to fly from Bremen, Germany, to Paris, France, where she would catch a connecting flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and then another to Asuncion.
Because the flight to Paris left 2 1/2 hours late, however, Folkerts missed her first connecting flight, and then the second in Brazil, ultimately arriving in Paraguay 11 hours past her scheduled arrival time.
Air France balked at the judgment for Folkerts and her husband, Heinz-Gerke, arguing that the Bremen-Paris flight delay fell with the three-hour threshold set by the EU's air passenger compensation law.
Unsympathetic, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice noted Tuesday that its precedent mandates
the protection of travelers all the way through the system - up to and including arrival at their final destination.
"The opposite approach would constitute an unjustified difference in treatment, inasmuch as it would effectively treat passengers of flights arriving at their final destination three hours or more after the scheduled arrival time differently depending on whether their flights were delayed beyond the scheduled departure time by more than the limits set out in [EU law], even though their inconvenience linked to an irreversible loss of time is identical," the court wrote.
The importance of protecting air passengers "may justify even substantial negative economic consequences for certain economic operators," it added.
And the law "must be interpreted as meaning that compensation is payable, on the basis of that article, to a passenger on directly connecting flights who has been delayed at departure for a period below the limits specified in that regulation, but has arrived at his final destination at least three hours later than the scheduled arrival time, given that the compensation in question is not conditional upon there having been a delay at departure," the court concluded.