Air travel: Boeing door flies off, plane has to make an emergency landing: What rights the passengers now have

It's a horror scenario for every passenger: Where there's supposed to be an emergency door, there's suddenly just a gaping hole.

Air travel: Boeing door flies off, plane has to make an emergency landing: What rights the passengers now have

It's a horror scenario for every passenger: Where there's supposed to be an emergency door, there's suddenly just a gaping hole. That's exactly what happened recently on an Alaska Airlines flight en route from Portland to Ontario. The plane had to make an emergency landing, but no one was seriously or even fatally injured in the accident. Are passengers entitled to compensation in such a case? And what does it generally look like when a plane has to make an emergency landing?

Anyone who has seen the passenger videos on board Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 will get a vague sense of what the passengers must have experienced during the accident. Even if the shock is still deep in the bones of the 171 passengers and will last for some time, they will not automatically receive compensation or compensation; they will have to take legal action. Berlin lawyer Roosbeh Karimi explains that passengers in the USA could most likely file high compensation claims.

In Germany, on the other hand, the jurisprudence is much more cautious. An example: A couple had sued their tour operator for damages and a reduction in the price because of the “fear of death they suffered”. On their flight, the pilot had to make a stopover; the plane's windshield was cracked and needed to be replaced. The Hanover Regional Court did not recognize any entitlement to compensation for pain and suffering (ref. 8 O 147/18).

But: If a passenger is injured, they may be entitled to compensation under the Montreal Convention. The corresponding clause provides a claim for damages in accordance with Article 17 paragraph 1 of the Montreal Convention for personal injuries to travelers that occur on board the aircraft. "On the Alaska Airlines plane, the teenager who was sitting near the door sustained injuries from the sudden drop in pressure. The airline is liable for damages for these types of injuries. The claim for damages is limited to 100,000 special drawing rights, which corresponds to a current value of approximately 122,676.36 euros," explains Flightright passenger rights expert Claudia Brosche. Travelers can find an overview of the scope of the Montreal Convention here.

Passengers are not entitled to compensation per se in the event of an emergency landing. "If an aircraft reaches its final destination with an arrival delay of at least three hours or if the flight is canceled entirely, the European Air Passenger Rights Regulation applies." However, it only applies to European airlines or flights departing from Europe, says Roosbeh Karimi. Depending on the distance, a delay of at least three hours triggers individual, flat-rate claims of between 200 and 600 euros per passenger. This also applies to delays caused by emergency landings. What is crucial here, however, is the reason why the plane had to make an emergency landing: Airlines are obliged to pay compensation for delays and flight cancellations - unless the airline can cite extraordinary circumstances as the cause and thereby exempt themselves from payment, says Claudia Brosche.

If a delay or flight cancellation is caused by a technical defect, an airline cannot rely on extraordinary circumstances. These can typically occur during the operation of an aircraft. “This means that an aviation company is responsible for the maintenance, repair and inspection of its aircraft and cannot regularly exempt itself from the compensation payment,” explains Claudia Brosche.

In the case of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, however, the evidence does not indicate that it was a technical defect on a single aircraft, according to the passenger rights expert. The evidence of the incident so far suggests that a hidden manufacturing defect may have been the cause of the aircraft's door loss. The aircraft that had to make an emergency landing on the domestic American flight was a Boeing 737 Max 9. As a result of the incident, the US aviation authority has ordered that a total of 171 aircraft of this type must be checked before continuing their flight. Until all aircraft have been inspected, the planes will remain on the ground for safety reasons.

If the European Passenger Regulations were to apply to the Alaska Airlines flight, there would probably be no claim for compensation because the airline could invoke an extraordinary circumstance due to a potential manufacturing defect, says Claudia Brosche.

The incident at Alaska Airlines is comparable to a European case. "The airline Swiss International had 28 of its aircraft inspected immediately after the engine on an Airbus A220 aircraft failed. All canceled flights were subject to this extraordinary circumstance and the passengers were not entitled to compensation," summarizes Claudia Brosche. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled in the case (case no heard.

If a plane arrives at its destination more than three hours late due to an emergency landing or a flight is canceled, travelers should try to enforce their claim for compensation. Because: Airlines do not have to pay unless exceptional circumstances are the reason for the delay.

"Airlines rely on people not asserting claims or giving them up quickly. It is therefore advisable to ask the airline to pay the compensation itself, giving 14 days' notice," advises lawyer Roosbeh Karimi. If the airline does not pay the compensation, travelers have several options. "With legal protection insurance, you look for a specialized lawyer to enforce the law, if necessary in court. The effort is minimal these days." If you don't want to take the risk of legal costs, you can contact consumer advice centers, aviation anger apps or the SÖP (public transport) arbitration board. “While the consumer advice centers only charge a small fee, the Fluganger app and the arbitration board are completely free for consumers. Anything is better than leaving the claim alone,” says Roosbeh Karimi.