El Al to Pay Passengers for 17-Hour Delay

YERUSHALAYIM -

An Israeli court has ordered El Al Israel Airlines to pay a combined total of 92,000 shekels ($25,000) to passengers whose flight from Moscow was delayed for 17 hours, Globes reported on Thursday.

The Rehovot Magistrates Court awarded each of the 35 passengers 2,050 shekels ($565), along with their legal costs, in the amount of 18,000 shekels.

After boarding the plane at 7 p.m. as scheduled, the passengers were informed that their flight was postponed until the next day, due to a technical malfunction. El Al said it provided supper and put the passengers up at local hotels.

El Al claimed that a rare technical malfunction was involved “of a security character that could not be handled at Moscow Airport,” and therefore canceled the flight in order to avoid jeopardizing the passengers’ safety. It argued that the law exempts an airline from damages in such cases, which qualify under the law’s rubric of “special circumstances.”

However, Judge Menachem Mizrahi did not accept El Al’s argument. He cited a series of precedents in which airlines were not exempted from paying compensation to passengers for cancelations or delays caused by technical malfunctions. He concluded that to recognize such malfunctions as being covered by the phrase “special circumstances” would in effect render the law meaningless.

“If such an interpretation were to be accepted, the law would be meaningless… The assumption is that the defendant has no motive for canceling its flights for no reason, which will cause it damage. A cancelation is always because of some malfunction or other… If the court recognizes an ordinary technical malfunction as grounds for an exemption, many passengers whose flight is canceled will receive no compensation, and there will be no effective enforcement of this consumer law designed to prove a remedy to the entire public.”

The judge held that the definition of “special circumstances” referred to sudden and unpredictable weather, general natural disasters, wars, unexpected general strikes, a general structural malfunction in airliners, etc. — that would justify the exemption.

The judge added, “In principle, there is no technical malfunction for which a reasonable solution or response cannot be found. It is all a question of price, economic viability, planning and deployment of a technical set-up that can provide a suitable response to malfunctions within a reasonable time. By nature, the operation of aircraft involves wear and tear and malfunctions, and the defendant should expect such situations, prepare spare parts, employ suitable professional staff, keep spare airplane parts available, buy equipment, etc… I did not get the impression that the malfunction in the case presented before me was so rare or amazing that the defendant could not have anticipated it.”

The monetary award was calculated according to the Aviation Services Law, which provides for compensation according to the length of the flight: NIS 1,280 up to 2,000 kilometers, NIS 2,050 for 2,000-4,500 kilometers, and NIS 3,070 for more than 4,500 kilometers. In this case, the flight was 2,700 kilometers long, and the compensation was therefore NIS 2,050 per passenger.