Passenger rights on delayed air travel and cancellations

  • Passengers have more rights than they know when it comes to air travel
  • All flights departing from within the EU are covered by European legislation
  • Levels of possible compensation vary according to the length of the flight

So you are at the airport waiting excitedly to board the plane and jet off on your holidays. But suddenly the departure board is showing that your flight is delayed.

Worse still, it then changes to read ‘cancelled’.

Don’t just groan and put up with it. Under EU law, in many circumstances airlines have to provide passengers with food, drink and, in the case of a long delay, accommodation, plus compensation.

But all too often, airlines are unforthcoming about your rights – so it really pays to know what they are. This six point guide should help.

Read the signs: Passengers have more rights than they often appreciate when it comes to air travel

Read the signs: Passengers have more rights than they often appreciate when it comes to air travel

1. Get familiar with Regulation EC 261/2004

It sounds dull as ditch-water, and won’t be trending on Twitter any time soon.

But this is the key piece of EU law that covers passengers’ rights when flying. Having some understanding of it may deliver you anything from a free meal to a payout of hundreds of pounds.

If your flight is cancelled or delayed by at least two hours, then, under EU rules, airlines must provide – at the airport – a written summary setting out the rules for assistance and/or compensation.

However, this does not always happen.

Whether or not the airline tells you about your rights, do also look on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website (www.caa.co.uk). In the Passengers section, under Resolving Travel Problems, you will find chapter and verse about your rights when facing a delay or cancellation.

Important note: the regulation does not apply to any flight you might make. It covers those departing from airports in the European Union irrespective of the airline (so all ex-UK flights), and flights to EU airports which are operated by EU-based airlines.

Although Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are not in the EU, the rules apply to them too.

Don't take it lying down: All flights departing from EU airports are covered by European legislation

Don’t take it lying down: All flights departing from EU airports are covered by European legislation

2. You may be entitled to assistance

Depending on the length of your delay and flight, airlines have to provide – for free – means of communication (eg phone calls), a reasonable amount to eat and drink (usually covered in the form of vouchers), and, for overnight delays, hotel accommodation and airport-hotel transfers.

These rights kick in when the delay is over two hours on short-haul flights up to 1,500km, more than three hours on flights 1,500km-3,500km, and over four hours on longer flights.

Crucially, airlines must provide this help whatever the cause of the delay.

If your airline does not cough up and you incurred costs, keep the receipts, and contact the airline later to make a claim.

3. You may also be entitled to compensation…

…but only if the flight arrives at least three hours late, or it was cancelled, and the airline was at fault.

However, there is a sizeable catch. If the airline can prove that ‘extraordinary circumstances’ beyond its control were at play, such as as bad weather, air traffic control problems or security issues, then it does not have to cough up. A technical problem with the aircraft can also fall under ‘extraordinary circumstances’ – but not if it should have been picked up by routine maintenance.

Compensation amounts are fixed – from €250 (around £210) to €600 (£504) per person – and determined by the length of flight and delay.

Importantly, you can claim for a delayed or cancelled flight that you took in past years (in theory back to as long ago as 2005).

Somewhere to turn? Flights outside the EU are less protected - but passengers still have considerable rights

Somewhere to turn? Flights outside the EU are less protected – but passengers still have considerable rights

4. Watch out for changes to EU rules

In June, the European Parliament may refine some of the rules.

It is likely that compensation only will apply for short-haul flights delayed by a minimum of five hours, or nine or 12 hours on longer journeys. On a more positive note, passengers’ rights when stuck sweltering in a plane going nowhere on the tarmac look set to improve.

5. Your rights on flights not covered by the EU regulation are much more limited

Usually, you will be at the mercy of the terms of your contract with the airline. If you are flying with a reputable airline, you can expect refreshments and hotel accommodation when severely delayed, but compensation is very unlikely.

Your travel insurance is likely to give some cover for long flight delays, but amounts are small: typically £25-£50 for a delay of over 12 hours.

6. Consider getting help to enforce your rights

Recent clarifications about the EU rules and what constitutes ‘extraordinary circumstances’ have meant that more passengers are receiving the compensation they are entitled to. However, many airlines will often try their utmost to avoid paying up, so you need to be prepared for a battle. First step is to put in a claim against the airline.

The CAA’s website (www.caa.co.uk) has detailed information on how best to go about making a claim, and has a template claims letter that you can download and send.

If you get nowhere with the airline, the CAA may be able to look in to your case.







Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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