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Passengers who faced delays in returning home due to a flight delay have been granted compensation by their airline, as the Korean Supreme Court upheld the need for the company to compensate for the passengers’ “mental damages” if the necessary measures are not taken.
The Supreme Court rendered such a decision in favor of some plaintiffs in a damages lawsuit filed by 77 passengers against Jeju Air, according to the superior court on Sunday. The flight in question in this lawsuit was initially scheduled to depart Clark International Airport in the Philippines at 3:05 a.m. on January 21, 2019, and arrive at Incheon International Airport at 8:05 a.m. the same day. But a fuel supply issue as it prepared for takeoff meant passengers eventually boarded a replacement aircraft, departing 19 hours and 25 minutes later than scheduled at 11 p.m.
Following the delay, passengers filed a damages lawsuit against Jeju Air, asking for compensation of 154.4 million won (around 116,925) in total. The lower court ordered Jeju Air to pay between 400,000 to 700,000 won per passenger, citing potential mental distress due to the extended waiting time. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.
But the Supreme Court interpreted the Montreal Convention differently from the trial and appellate courts. The Montreal Convention is a norm governing international air transportation, and this multilateral treaty takes precedence over civil and commercial laws if both the country of origin and destination are parties to it. Article 19 of the Montreal Convention states that “The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage, or cargo,” and there is a divergence on whether the “damage” in the provision includes psychiatric damage.
The trial court considered compensation for psychiatric damage caused by delay necessary, referenced by Article 19 of the Montreal Convention, while the appellate court found it challenging to limit damages provided by the treaty to economic and property damage.
The Supreme Court specified that damage under Article 19 of the Convention refers to property damage and “does not include mental damage unless there are special circumstances.” However, it did acknowledge the application of domestic law for compensating mental damage.
The Supreme Court took a similar stance in a proceeding court case. In a damages lawsuit filed by 269 passengers after the cancellation of an Asiana Airlines Inc. flight in September 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court‘s decision, awarding each passenger 400,000 won.
Asiana Airlines had canceled a flight scheduled to depart Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, for Incheon International Airport at 1:10 a.m. on September 13, 2019, citing a faulty aircraft.
By Kang Min-woo and Chang Iou-chung
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