With winter seemingly (at last!) behind us, we are now in the run up to summer holidays – and the inevitable frenzy of airlines competing for our business. Whilst the majority of peoples’ holidays will no doubt go smoothly, sun burn aside, a few will run into problems with their airline. This might be a delayed flight, breach of contract, or missing a connecting flight. The question is, once you get home, what can you do?
The obvious first step is to put your complaint in writing to the airline, who should have a complaints policy. Try to provide the airline with as much information as possible, and let them set out their position. If you still cannot agree a solution, you could then consider whether you wish to raise a court action to argue for compensation.
If you are thinking about raising a court action, one of the first things that you will need to do is work out which court you should raise it in. If you try to raise a court action in the wrong court, there is a good chance that the court will refuse to accept it. Even if the court does accept the action, however, it would then be open to the Defender/Respondent to argue that the court you picked is the wrong one. This could potentially be costly, if the Defender/Respondent is correct and asks for their legal expenses involved in dealing with your case.
It is particularly complicated to pin down the correct court in claims involving air travel. The ordinary rule for cases about a consumer contract (which air travel usually is) is that the consumer can raise the action in their local court. However, the usual Act that deals with jurisdiction will only apply where the consumer has purchased a ‘package holiday’ consisting of travel and accommodation.
If your contract was for air travel only, you would have to rely on an international convention (and the domestic Act that makes the convention part of UK law) to work out which court might have jurisdiction. The options for jurisdiction are:-
- ‘domicile’ of the company;
- principal place of business of the company;
- the place of business where the contract was made; or
- the court of the place of ‘destination’.
It may be that you live five minutes away from, for instance, British Airway’s head office and so do not really mind raising the action at the court that you both share. However, if you lived in Glasgow this would be less appealing. The solution would be to focus on the ‘destination’ provision. In a 2015 decision, a Sheriff at Edinburgh Sheriff Court examined this provision and adopted a very sensible approach to the question of destination, noting that whilst in that case the Pursuers had stopped en route to Edinburgh at Gatwick, this was merely a connecting flight and they were still in transit. Accordingly, on the facts of that case, Edinburgh Sheriff Court had jurisdiction.
It is also worth bearing in mind that there are comparatively short time limits for raising claims under the international convention.