The courts ruled in favor of a passenger who sued Air France for cancelling his return flight because of a “no show” on the outbound flight, but it would be wrong to give this decision a greater scope than its actual scope.
What is “no show”?
It is for an airline to cancel, on a ticket, the segments remaining to be flown when the passenger has not completed one of the previous segments.
- The passenger books a Paris-Marseille round trip, does not do the Paris-Marseille and only flies the Marseille-Paris.
- A passenger books a Paris-Singapore-Bangkok flight, does not fly Singapore-Bangkok, stays in Singapore and checks in for the Singapore-Paris flight.
- A passenger books a Paris-Singapore-Bangkok flight, does not fly the Singapore-Bangkok flight as planned, travels to Bangkok on another flight, and checks in for the Bangkok-Paris flight.
In both cases, all segments remaining to be flown after the segment not flown will be cancelled. In concrete terms, the passenger will be denied boarding in Marseille in one case and in Bangkok in the other.
What are the reasons for a no-show?
A passenger can make a no-show for different reasons.
First, there are the “hazards” inherent to any trip.
In the examples I gave, perhaps a professional constraint. Maybe the passenger who skipped Paris-Marseille had a last minute meeting, couldn’t take his flight and got off at Marseille by TGV or by another flight.
Maybe the one who stayed in Singapore did so because his employer suddenly told him to go see a client in Singapore and cancel his appointment in Bangkok which had a lower priority.
Or maybe the one who skipped his Singapore-Bangkok did so because of a last minute meeting and then reached Bangkok by taking a separate ticket.
And then there are the “tricks”.
Maybe the person who was going to Marseille knew that he was going there by car and only needed a Marseille-Paris ticket but realized that buying a round trip would cost him less than a one-way ticket.
Or maybe we are dealing with a “hidden city“. What is it? The real destination of the passenger is “hidden” and is not the one mentioned on the ticket. In my example the real final destination could be Singapore but the Paris-Singapore-Bangkok was cheaper than Paris-Singapore.
What are the rules in case of no-show?
You will usually see in the fare conditions of your ticket that “all segments must be completed and in the correct order“. It has the merit of being clear. And if not? Outright cancellation of the ticket?
Of course, like any rule, this one has its exceptions. Some fare classes allow no-shows with or without penalty…but in this case these are often the most expensive fares. In 99% of the cases the no-show remains prohibited.
Why are airlines so intolerant of no-shows?
It’s not that they are intolerant but it’s part of their business model as we have seen here.
An airline has pricing logic by market (country or airport of departure). It is sometimes more interesting to fly Air France from London, Hamburg or Tunis and go back via Paris to your final destination. And nothing prevents a French passenger from “picking up” his or her departure flight in Tunis because, for example, the Tunis-Paris-Singapore is much cheaper in business or first class than the Paris-Singapore. Except that the passenger may be tempted to forget the Tunis-Paris on the outbound trip or the Paris-Tunis on the return trip, a typical case
In the first case, the whole trip will be cancelled, in the second case the airline could proceed to a tariff readjustment as Lufthansa did recently.
Sanctioning no-shows allows airlines, among other things, to make this market-based approach work and to protect their fare structure.
What did the courts say?
Of course passengers don’t like this rule. There is the bona fide passenger who sees his ticket cancelled and his vacation ruined and we understand him a little. There is the “hidden city” passenger who would like to avoid flying a last useless segment and/or paying for his post-trip and…well, too bad for him.
Let’s be clear about this at TravelGuys, our opinion on hidden cities is clear: yes, a passenger is right to choose his departure/destination airport according to the fares, but this does not exempt him from flying all his segments in the right order. It is up to him to see if the time wasted and the cost of pre-post flights are worth it. It’s not the practice that is criticized, it’s not respecting the rules of the game. So yes to the Tunis-Paris-Singapore as long as one leaves Tunis and come back at the end, even if it takes a long time!
Let’s get back to the point.
Air France was sued by a passenger who was denied boarding on a Toulouse-Paris flight because he did not show up for the Paris-Toulouse flight. The airline cancelled his return ticket.
The Court of First Instance of Toulouse ruled in favor of the passenger and ordered Air France to reimburse the customer, pay him 500 euros in damages for moral prejudice and 800 euros for defense costs on the grounds that the airline had no right to cancel his ticket.
So this is the end of the no-show ban? Well, contrary to what I’ve read here and there: no!
No, the courts did not prohibit the sanctioning of no-shows
I saw a lot of people rejoicing about this decision, some finding the cancellation practice disproportionate and others imagining they could do hidden-city all they wanted! Well, you will be disappointed.
What does the court say? That the airline had no right to cancel the ticket. No more, no less. On the other hand, Air France could have charged a penalty instead of cancelling the ticket, or even a penalty sufficiently dissuasive to force the passenger to buy another ticket!
This decision regulates the sanctioning of no-shows but does not prohibit it!
This is what Lufthansa did in the case I mentioned above by “repricing” a ticket after the fact. There too, justice had been in favor of the passenger, but not for the reasons one might think. The court said that Lufthansa had the right to make a subsequent fare adjustment and ask the customer to pay the difference as long as the rules for calculating the amount were clear, which was not the case here. With clear rules and a solid justification one can imagine that the German airline would have won the case.
Goodbye cancellations, hello big penalties
This decision will not change anything in my opinion.
First of all, because the airlines are going to change their general sales conditions and the penalty for no-shows will no longer be a cancellation but a penalty. All you have to do is set the penalty at the right level so that it will be exactly the same.
Secondly, because it is “only” a decision of the district court which cannot be appealed. This is a case in point, but it does not have sufficient authority to set a precedent unless it is confirmed by a host of judgments in the same line.