Supreme Court renders null and void extended use clauses for airline companies
A supreme court judgment (no 631/201, by the civil chamber) has held that a few airline ticket clauses are unfair as a result of a breach of the law, and therefore confirmed that they were null and void as had been found by Madrid Provincial Appellate Court, following a number of class action cases brought by consumers.
In particular, it considered unfair, and therefore null and void, any clauses that allowed the airline company to change the terms and conditions of carriage that had already been entered into “in the event of necessity”. That expression, the Supreme Court held, is too non-specific and may fall outside the scope of “extraordinary” circumstances, cases determining that companies are allowed to modify the contract, as has been recognized by the Court of the European Union.
Secondly, another clause customarily included in plane tickets established that the company was released from liability if the passenger missed a connecting flight. This wording established a release from liability drawn up in terms that were too non-specific, whereby, in the court’s view, determining that release was exclusively the company's decision. This runs counter to good faith, and the rights of consumers in relation to claiming liability for the damage and losses resulting from breaches by the company. Therefore, a clause drawn up in these terms was considered unfair and held null and void. Having said that, the court clarified that this does not mean that the airline company always has to be liable in cases where travelers miss their connecting flights.
Lastly, the third clause held null and void is the clause known in the airline industry as a no-show clause which many companies have recently started using. It involves the practice of denying boarding to passengers if they have not shown up for boarding or have not used any of the purchased flights. In these cases, they cancelled the purchased flights if any of the flights had not been used, and set out their right to do so in these clauses. The chamber held that no loss is sustained by a company that decided to lower prices in cases of combined sales of more than one flight if the customer decides not to use all of them (the flight back after buying a return ticket, for example). This is because in its view the company "has collected the full price of the ticket it put on sale, and a passenger’s absence does not increase its costs, since if anything the opposite would occur". It added that "the clause in question causes an imbalance of rights and obligations that is contrary to good faith, in that a consumer that has performed their obligation, which is nothing more than payment of the price, is deprived of the right to benefit from the service they hired, where for any number of reasons that customer decided or was forced to use only part of the service".