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Germany’s top judges hear case that could offer plane passengers a big boost

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Germany’s top judges hear case that could offer plane passengers a big boost
Photo: DPA
11:06 CET+01:00
Judges in Germany’s Federal Court of Justice started hearing a case on Tuesday which concerns whether airlines should be allowed to keep your cash if you cancel a booking.

Anyone who flies regularly will know the annoyance. You book a flight months in advance in order to get a good deal. But then an unforeseen event forces you to cancel your flight.

Currently many airlines will keep your money, or at the least they will take a large part of it as an “administrative fee” if you change your booking.

Two customers of Lufthansa decided they were sick of this rule and so took the airline to court. According to their argument, a flight booking should be treated like a work contract. If you employ someone to undertake a job for you in Germany, it is possible to cancel and receive a refund. Why should that be different for airlines, the plaintiffs asked.

Two district courts in North Rhine-Westphalia rejected their case. But the plaintiffs didn’t give up, taking their appeal to the highest court in the country.

The Consumer Protection Organization (VZBV) has predicted that the high court judges will rule in the customers’ favour.

Felix Methmann, a travel law expert at the VZBV, also argued that flights were a type of work contract and “in work contracts there is a rule that they can be cancelled ahead of time.”

Paragraph 648 of the German Civil Code concerns the rights customers have when they cancel their contract, stating that the company is allowed to keep the money in case of a cancellation. But it also makes clear that the company must return at least part of the money if the service has been sold to another customer.

In the specific case, the two plaintiffs booked flights from Hamburg to Miami via Frankfurt at a cost of €2,766 in 2015.

When they tried to cancel them two months before the departure date due to an illness, Lufthansa returned around €260 in taxes and administrative fees. The pair would have only had a right to a refund of the flight costs if they had booked a more expensive ticket.

The two lower courts ruled that the fault lay with the customers, as they had the option to buy refundable tickets at a higher price but chose not to.

But Methmann argued that it is the responsibility of the airlines to prove that they have been unable to sell the service.

“Customers cannot be expected to provide proof, as they are not the ones who have access to the booking system,” he said.

It is unclear whether the high court will announce its ruling on Tuesday.

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