More and more lawsuits against airlines are being filed in courts at the locations of the 20 largest German airports. According to the German Association of Judges, there were more than 125,000 last year, more than ever before. Compared to the previous year, the number of cases nationwide has increased by around 80 percent. Customers usually demand compensation for canceled or delayed flights.
With almost 37,300 proceedings, the Cologne District Court had the highest volume, according to a survey by the “Deutsche Richterzeitung”, to which the association referred. That is almost twice as many as in the previous year. Lufthansa has its legal headquarters in the cathedral city. This is followed by Frankfurt with a good 15,000 cases (2022: around 11,300) and the Königs Wusterhausen district court, which is responsible for the capital airport BER, with almost 14,000 (2022: more than 7,000).
According to the association, proceedings by BER passengers now make up 93 percent of all civil lawsuits at the court in Brandenburg. At the Erding District Court, which is responsible for Munich Airport, the figure is even 94 percent.
The number of cases at the Arbitration Board for Public Transport (SÖP) has also increased significantly again, although with almost 39,800 complaints, the record year of 2020 was just missed. Once again, disputes over air travel accounted for by far the largest share of consumer submissions at 84 percent. The more than 33,000 requests for arbitration mostly concerned canceled flights, delays and baggage problems. On average, 85 percent of the proceedings were ended with an agreement, reports the SÖP.
Courts test AI
The Association of Judges sees portals with which passengers can assert their claims quickly and easily as a key reason for the development in the courts. “Many district courts are groaning under a new wave of passenger cases,” said Federal Managing Director Sven Rebehn of the German Press Agency.
The judiciary has reacted and is trying to better handle the “assembly line lawsuits” that law firms and debt collection service providers flood many courts with using modern technology. In Frankfurt, for example, an AI assistance program was tested. According to the Hessian Ministry of Justice, this can analyze written documents, read out metadata and suggest text modules for a judgment to judges. The successful development of the “Frauke” prototype is also generating interest in Brandenburg: last November, the two countries agreed to work together.
“So far, no standard software has been developed that could help with the flood of lawsuits in the regular operations of the courts,” says Rebehn. He renewed his criticism of the lack of spending on the judiciary: "With the federal government's mini-budget reduced to 50 million euros annually, the digitization of the judiciary in Germany will not be noticeably accelerated."
Fewer passengers than before the pandemic
According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, air traffic in Germany continued to recover from the Corona shock in 2023, but is lagging behind in European comparison. The statisticians registered 185.2 million passengers at the 23 main German airports in 2023. That was 19.3 percent more than in the same period last year, but also 18.3 percent less than in the last pre-Corona year of 2019.
There are not even half as many people traveling on domestic flights as before the pandemic. Not much will change this year either: According to the flight schedule analysis by the industry association BDL, 53 percent of the seats from 2019 will be offered within Germany in the first half of the year. According to the forecast, it is 95 percent on long-haul routes and 89 percent on short- and medium-haul routes to destinations outside of Germany. The number of flights available remains particularly limited in Dresden, Stuttgart and Berlin.