Making Cents: Make sure you know your rights as an airline passenger

If the recent controversy regarding Ryanair and cancelled flights has an upside, it is the reminder to travellers to be aware of their rights, and their chosen airline’s responsibilities, when plans go awry.

In Ireland, the authority with responsibility for passenger rights is the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR). Spokesperson Michael Dowling said it has had a busy fortnight since the story broke.

It has a website providing information to passengers, flightrights.ie, and has made a number of updates specifically aimed at those affected by the Ryanair cancellations.

“The first thing for anyone affected is to contact the airline,” said Mr Dowling. “There are two separate elements: expenses claims and compensation claims. We have put two links up on our site.”

If a flight is cancelled, an air carrier must offer passengers the choice between rerouting as close as possible to the original departure time, rerouting at a later date, or a refund. Depending on the amount of notice and the option the passenger chooses, they may also be entitled to compensation. Customers must give the airline time to address their issue before taking it further.

“In cases like this the first step is to claim from the airline. If they don’t get a satisfactory response from the airline or they don’t get any response, then they contact the enforcing body in the country where the cancelled flight was due to depart from.”

What this means is CAR can only deal with airlines in relation to flights due to leave Ireland, although it has made efforts to assist Irish people with flights taking off from further afield. “There is an equivalent authority for every EU country, but we have put links up in our news piece for the relevant ones for the specific Ryanair issue,” said Mr Dowling.

Ryanair has been dealing with customers, how long should passengers wait on a response in general? Mr Dowling said: “There is no specific timeframe in the regulations but there is a kind of non-binding agreement that airlines will respond in six weeks. So generally we would say that if you haven’t heard anything after six weeks, to think about escalating it.”

To complicate matters, some bodies take a different view. The airport most affected by the initial Ryanair cancellations was London Stansted. Mr Dowling explained that the UK has a slightly different process.

“They have a system called Alternative Dispute Resolution, where the civil aviation authorities have nominated specific companies to deal with disputes on their behalf. UK Ryanair cases are dealt with by a body called Aviation ADR, who won’t take the case unless you have given Ryanair eight weeks to respond or are unhappy with the response.”

Irish passengers can contact the company at www.aviationadr.org.uk.

In general, if you find yourself in a position where you cannot immediately apply for a refund or compensation, there is no need to panic. In Ireland and the EU, passengers have up to six years to apply.

Mr Dowling said the questions the CAR is answering now should serve as a caution for passengers who run into difficulty in the future.

“The queries we are getting now relate to people who travelled back with different airlines and people who have prepaid hotel expenses abroad, about whether or not they can claim those back,” he said. “And in most cases they can’t.”

While Ryanair may choose to take care of some customer costs in this case, passengers should never presume their chosen airline will do this. “The big piece of advice we give people is, where at all possible, stick with the same air carrier,” said Mr Dowling. “Once you stick with the same air carrier and they reroute you, they are then liable to provide you with food and accommodation until you eventually get away, and food and transfers, etc. If they are giving you a flight in, say, three days and you decide you can’t take it and fly with a different airline, you essentially cut your ties with the carrier and you are on your own. The only thing you will get back will be the refund and possibly compensation on top of that, if they haven’t given you two weeks notice.”

 

Deal of the week

Yes, it is a little early to be talking about Halloween but at least it stops us and the shops mentioning the dreaded C-word for another few weeks.

If you have a little (or not so little) monster to kit out for trick-or-treating, you can get sorted this week at Aldi.

The retailer has a whole range of costumes, for both adults and children, available from Thursday, October 5.

Children’s outfits are €4.99 and come in seven different designs. Depending on age, children can dress as pirates, zombies, skeletons, witches, a prom queen or the grim reaper. Smaller children can be dressed as pumpkins for the occasion.

For €9.99, adults can also dress up, as either skeletons, witches or mermaids.

There are t-shirts for €7.99, for those who don’t want to go the whole hog and masks from €3.99.

Spooky partyware, lights and decorations go on sale at the same time, priced from 99c up to €9.99.


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