Air travel – What could go wrong?
A quick guide to your rights surrounding compensation for flight delay claims.
Picture this, for months you and your family have planned for the perfect holiday. Finally, game day has arrived. You have all packed, flip flops, trunks, and snorkel gear, with passports in hand and tickets at the ready. You reach the departing airport and approach the check-in desk. Ready to start your adventure, the glee in your eyes and your excitement slowly turns to dread.
The flashing red words of disappointment solemnly follow your flight number. Delayed or even worse cancelled. Some of you may get to the front of the check-in line and greeted with the kind words of; “I’m sorry we appear to have over-booked your flight, and there are no longer any seats available for you and your family. However, the good news is for free of charge we have booked you onto the next flight that departs first thing in the morning.” The above scenarios are rare, and if a delay occurs, the likelihood is that it will be under an hour.
However, in the event of being denied boarding or a delayed/cancelled flight, we have produced a short guide to help.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 was created in 2004 to ensure a high level of protection for passengers in the field of Air Transport.
The regulation (often criticised as a way for consumers to make a quick buck for short delays), is an excellent tool for consumer protection if used correctly. The regulation gives you not only the right to compensation but also the right to care if a disruption occurs.
Some airlines may not tell you this, so it is worth taking a note.
Denied boarding, defined within the regulation as, ‘refusal to carry passengers on a flight, although they have paid for the flight and presented themselves for boarding’. If the airline expects that they will need to deny boarding onto a flight (for overbooking) they should first ask for volunteers to give up their seat. If no-one or not enough volunteers come forward, then the airline can choose to deny individuals even against their will.
So which one is better, volunteer or risk being the chosen?
Volunteers can surrender their seats in exchange for benefits, which need agreeing between the individual and the airline. So what are these benefits? Well, anything you want to ask for (but do keep it reasonable). If they don’t make a sensible offer and you subsequently refuse you no longer count as a volunteer, so don’t be afraid to be bold. Once agreements made, part of the agreement must be; reimbursement of the cost of the flight, or a rescheduled flight.
If denied boarding against your will, you are automatically entitled to compensation. Only if you are not denied boarding for a valid reason. Examples of this are health issues, because you pose a security risk or because you have forgotten vital documentation such as your Passport or a Visa where applicable etc. The levels of compensation are covered below: As well as the compensation you will be entitled to meals and refreshments if the waiting time sufficient. If the wait runs overnight or longer, you are entitled to Hotel accommodation as well. You will also be entitled to as transport to and from the hotel. In addition to this, you also ‘will be offered two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mail access’ according to the regulations. In the event of the airline refusing to provide a hotel or food and drink when necessary, you can pay for these yourself and claim the cost back once you get home. If you are forced down this route ensure you keep all receipts if you want to claim this back. Also note that these costs also need to be reasonable, so don’t book yourself into a 5-star hotel, or order the lobster with a side of prosecco then raid the minibar and expect full reimbursement.
If your flights delayed, you also have the right to refreshments and meals, and a hotel, if the delay is long enough. However, your right to care depends on the length of delay, and the distance you are scheduled to travel. These are itemised below:
Meals and refreshments
(a) for two hours or more in the case of flights of 1500 Kilometers or less; or
(b) for three hours or more in the case of all intra-Community flights – defined as “The movement of an aircraft between two EU airports, without any stopovers, which does not start from or end at a non-EU airport.” of more than 1500 Kilometres and all other flights between 1500 and 3500 Kilometres; or
(c) for four hours or more in the case of all flights not falling under (a) or (b),
(d) if the delay is expected to last into the day after the scheduled time of departure irrelevant of the distance.
Reimbursement of the ticket
(e) When the delay is at least five hours irrelevant of the distance.
Compensation for flight delay
When the delay is at least 3 hours, you will also be entitled to compensation depending on why the flight was cancelled; this is shown in more detail further down.
What The Rules Say Here For cancellations, your entitlements are pretty much the same as for a delay as identified above. However, there are some points to note regarding flights cancelled long before your scheduled departure date.
The regulation states that you are entitled to compensation unless;
(i) You were informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure; or
(ii) informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and offered re-routing, allowing you to depart no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure and to reach your final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or
(iii) you are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing you to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure and to reach your final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival.
So if you are informed of the cancellation more than two weeks before you are due to fly you are not entitled to compensation.
If you find yourself at a loss because the airline says you have been informed of the cancellation, but you do not believe this is the case. The burden of proof lies with the airline, they must prove that you were notified about the cancellation.
The notification could be direct to you or through the travel agent that you have booked the flights.
If you were not informed, either by the airline or the travel agent then compensation will be deemed applicable. If the cancellation disrupts your travel plans, such as a business trip, or a short family visit, you are entitled to either reimbursement or re-routing. Therefore, if you know that the cancellation is going to cause you to miss the purpose of your journey, you can request a refund of the ticket price and look elsewhere.
So what is the Compensation for a flight delay?
The compensation element under the regulation is complicated and separated into four levels, €250, €300, €400 and €600, all on a per passenger basis. As a guide, you can expect:
€250 for all passengers who are delayed over 3 hours and their flight is 1500 kilometres or less (short-haul flights)
€300 for all flights over 3500 kilometres that are not from one EU country to another and the disruption is more than three hours but less than 4. (long haul flights)
€400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres (Medium haul flights)
€600 for all flights over 3500 kilometres that are not from one EU country to another (long haul flights).
When does an airline not have to pay compensation for a flight delay?
If you fit into the points above the airline does not have to pay compensation if they deem the disruption was due to an extraordinary circumstance. The circumstance must be one that could not have been avoided if all reasonable measures had been taken. This is where the disputes lie as the definition is to a degree open to interpretation. For an event to be classed as an extraordinary circumstance, the event must not be inherent in the daily activities of the airline or be considered as routine airport services.
So if your flight is delayed due to an ‘air traffic control strike’ compensation would not be applicable, unless the airline had an opportunity to avoid the disruption but failed to do so. Virtually all airlines will try to deny compensation if they have any chance to do so. If you feel on the day that they have not done enough to avoid the disruption, make notes of the events and the times, as this can be valuable evidence.
Remember, irrespective of whether compensation is applicable, you are always entitled to refreshments and hotels if appropriate. If you have been affected by any of the above, please feel free to visit our claim page if you require any further assistance. You can also use our claim checker to see if you have a claim