December 14th, 2022
In the aftermath of flight disruptions, the question often arises as to how any resulting claims can be asserted against the operating air carrier. For this purpose, airlines prefer to use so-called claim forms. However, if passengers are restricted to the use of these contact forms, this constitutes a violation of EU law that can be addressed with a warning…
After flight disruptions increased in summer 2022 due to a wide variety of reasons causing many passengers to claim for e.g. reimbursement of ticket costs and compensation due to cancelled or delayed flights, the question of the airlines’ contact channels arises with regard to lodging claims.
It is common standard in the airline industry to work primarily with so-called claim forms on the website. This format of contact enables the airline to streamline the requested information necessary for examining the claim, thus avoiding the airlines’ agents – in search for this information – to work their way through pages and pages of continuous text. From the airlines’ perspective there is a legitimate interest in limiting the contact to the claim forms if possible. Last but not least, this can also result in faster and efficient processing of claims.
However, airlines should be aware that by providing such a claim form as only point of contact for filing a claim this violates European law. Art. 5 Directive 2000/31/EC (so-called E-Commerce Directive) states that information enabling rapid contact and direct and efficient communication, including the electronic mail address, must be made easily, directly and permanently available. In Germany this requirement has been implemented in Sec. 5 para. 1 no. 2 of the German Telemedia Act (TMG).
Courts have already ruled several times that surrogates, such as a telephone or fax number or even an online contact form, do not replace the provision of an e-mail address as a means of contact. This form of communication is in fact binding for the online provider of goods and services.
Most recently, at the request of the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Advice Centre, the Düsseldorf Regional Court issued an interim injunction against Brussels Airlines, prohibiting it from offering business telemedia (e.g. online flight bookings) to consumers in Germany via the website www.brusselsairlines.com/de/de/homepage without keeping an e-mail address for rapid electronic contact easily recognisable, directly accessible and permanently available. For each case of infringement, a fine of up to EUR 250,000.00 or, alternatively, imprisonment has been threatened (cf. LG Düsseldorf, order of 17.08.2022 – 12 O 219/22).
Due to multiple complaints from passengers, it is to be expected that German consumer advice centres, in particular, will pay increased attention to compliance with the obligation to provide an email address and issue warnings for violations in the future. It must therefore be ensured that an email address for contacting is easily, directly and permanently available on the website. Should you have any questions on the design or the position of such email address on your website, please do not hesitate to contact us.
LG Düsseldorf, 17.08.2022, file 12 O 219/22