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EC261 compensation is always processed and paid by the airline, including when it's due to wrongful denied boarding.

However, will the airline pay from its own pocket, or will the handling agent whose staff denied boarding (if not belonging to the airline) be forced to pay the airline?

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    That's a contractual matter between the airline and its service provider, not regulated by the EU. What each particular contract says about it is probably considered to be a business secret by the parties. – Henning Makholm Aug 18 at 20:11
  • Even taking into account Henning Makholm's comment and Moo's answer, the answer to your question will probably depend on the reason for the denied boarding. If the ground agent executes the airline's policy faithfully, the ground agent should bear no liability. If the ground agent does something contrary to airline policy, the airline may have a claim against the ground agent. – phoog Aug 18 at 20:21
  • I assume it is quality of service matter. So airlines when deciding airports and handler it checks how much it will spend. It is not just EC261, there are many more factors which costs more (delays, baggage, etc.). If handles is performing bad in one year... things could change. And BTW the airline will have an insurance (and the fee depends on normal performance of airline/airport) – Giacomo Catenazzi Aug 19 at 8:55
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Under EU 261 rules, the operating airline is responsible for compensation claims if you presented correctly and with valid documentation, in this specific case 'denied boarding':

  1. If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them in accordance with Article 7 and assist them in accordance with Articles 8 and 9.

EU 261 Regulation

How that compensation claim is handled internally between contracted parties is outside the scope of the EU regulation.

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