What you’re entitled to if your flight is disrupted

John Hearne outlines the main compensations for EU air passengers whose flights are cancelled, delayed or impacted by other disruptions

Compensation for flights in the EU hit a five-year high last year, with a total payment of €460,000, up from €139,000 in 2017.

The single market for air travel has had a huge impact on the rights and protections for air passengers in the EU. If a flight is delayed or cancelled, if you are denied boarding or if your luggage goes AWOL, the legislation ensures that you have a wide range of entitlements.

Martina Nee is press and communications manager for ECC Ireland. She says: “When there’s a problem like flight cancellation or delay it can be very frustrating for passengers as they try to figure out what to do and what their rights are. They often don’t know that they’re entitled to things like care and assistance, or in some cases even compensation.”

The rules governing compensation are complex, so ECC Ireland has developed a handy online tool to help you to work out what you’re entitled to. The flight rights calculator allows you to input your flight details and specify the nature of the disruption. It will then tell you exactly what you should be able to secure from the airline.

“The flight rights calculator will hopefully make the situation a little easier,” says Nee. “You can go to the tool on our website, put in a few simple details, and the calculator will do the rest of the work. By knowing their EU air passenger rights for their particular situation, passengers will be able to liaise with airlines with a bit more confidence.”

So what are these rights?

To start with, the airlines are required to spell them out for you. At check-in, they must prominently display this notice: ‘If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance.’

If a flight is delayed for two or more hours (depending on the distance of the flight) you should get free meals and refreshments, as well as two free telephone calls or emails. Where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, you must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the hotel.

If the flight is delayed by five hours or more, you can opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket. Once the refund is accepted, you’re not entitled to anything more. However, if you’ve already started your journey but your original travel plan is scuppered, because — for example — of a missed connecting flight, then you have a right to a return flight to the original point of departure at no extra cost. If your air carrier can’t do this free of charge, they have to reimburse you for any expenses incurred. So hold on to your receipts.

Although the regulations never set out compensation for flight delays, a Court of Justice ruling a few years ago established that passengers whose flights reach their final destination three hours or more after the scheduled arrival time can get the same compensation as those whose flights are cancelled — unless the airline can prove that the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

If you have been affected by a flight cancellation, you should be given a choice of rerouting to your final destination or a refund for any parts of the journey cancelled or not completed because of the cancellation. If you choose rerouting, the air carrier has to offer an alternative flight to your final destination.

If your flight is cancelled, then you are entitled to ‘appropriate assistance’ — which effectively means meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation and free phone calls. How much you get depends on the distance of the flight and how long you have to wait to be rerouted.

The regulation also sets out levels of compensation payable in cases of flight cancellation. How much you get depends on when you were informed of the cancellation, the arrangements for an alternative flight, the distance of the flight and the reason for the cancellation.

The general rule is that if they told you about the cancellation at least two weeks before departure, they don’t have to pay anything.

Otherwise, the distance of the flight determines the amount of compensation due.

You are entitled to €250 per passenger for flights of 1,500km or less, and to €400 per passenger for intra-Community flights of more than 1,500km, or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km. The specified level of compensation for all other flights is €600.

Note too that the amount of compensation payable may be cut in half if the rerouting offered allows you to arrive at your final destination close to the original scheduled arrival time (within two to four hours depending on the distance of the flight).

When a flight is overbooked, the airline must call on passengers to volunteer their seats to other passengers. Anyone who volunteers is entitled to compensation; how much is between you and the airline. Volunteers can also choose between an alternative flight or a refund. Remember however that if not enough volunteers come forward, the airline can refuse to board passengers against their will. If you are denied boarding against your will — despite having been on time and so on — the airline is obliged to offer you both ‘care and assistance’ and compensation along the same lines as specified above.

Note, however, that if the airline has ‘reasonable grounds’ to refuse boarding to passengers, none of the rules apply. These ‘reasonable grounds’ are quite wide ranging, and include health, safety or security concerns, inadequate travel documents or if the passenger arrives too late for the check-in or boarding procedures.

Under the Montreal Convention, you can claim compensation if your checked baggage fails to arrive on time or is damaged. Although airlines differ in their approaches to compensation, you may have to prove how much you lost with receipts.

Finally, full price transparency is an obligation under the Air Services Regulation. This says that the published price must include the fare and all applicable taxes, charges, surcharges and fees. If you book a flight online, the final price must be available from the first page, allowing you to compare prices across airlines.

The flights rights calculator was developed by ECC Sweden, which is a sister centre of ECC Ireland and part of the European Consumer Centre Network, in collaboration with the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) offers a free and confidential information and advice service to consumers, assisting them with cross-border disputes.

— Martina Nee, press and communications manager for ECC Ireland

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