Cancellations and compensation: what rights do air passengers have?

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Strike-hit Ryanair has announced it will refund passengers whose flights are cancelled -- as it is obliged to do -- but will not pay out compensation, citing "extraordinary circumstances".

However, the budget airline is being taken to court by a Belgian consumer group, who say under EU legislation passengers are entitled to between 250 and 600 euros ($285-$690) in compensation payouts.

A ruling this year by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against another airline which cited "extraordinary circumstances" over a strike by aircrew, allowing passengers to claim.

Here are some of the key points:

- Which flights are covered by the EU legislation? -

All flights taking off from airports in the "Community Space" of European Union countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, irrespective of the airline's nationality or the flight's destination.

For flights arriving from outside the "Community Space", only those operated by an airline from within the zone and a destination within the zone are covered.

- When is a flight late? -

For flights of less than 1,500 kilometres: two hours.

For flights of between 1,500 kms and 3,500 kms (930 miles and 2,100 miles) and all flights within the Community area of more than 1,500 kms: three hours.

For flights over 3,500 kms: four hours.

- What measures should be taken? -

Passengers must be rerouted on another flight or have their fare reimbursed by the airline if they refuse that option.

They are also entitled to compensation, except if passengers are informed two weeks before the departure time, if a seat is offered on board another flight at a time close to that initially scheduled, or if the carrier proves that the cancellation is due to "extraordinary circumstances", such as a surprise strike by air traffic controllers.

- How much compensation? -

For flights less than 1,500 kms: 250 euros.

For flights between 1,500 kms and 3,500 kms and all flights within the Community area more than 1,500 kms: 400 euros.

For flights over 3,500 kms: 600 euros.

Depending on the length of delay, the airline must also offer refreshments, food, communication, accommodation and transport between the hotel and airport.

However, a clause specifies that the airline may not pay compensation if it proves the delay or cancellation was due to "extraordinary circumstances".

The regulation lists, in particular, cases of political instability, weather conditions, security risks or unforeseen failures that may affect flight safety.

- Is a strike an 'extraordinary circumstance'? -

A wildcat strike by airline staff against a restructuring cannot be cited as an "extraordinary circumstance", according to a ruling by the European Court of Justice in April, which settled a case involving the German airline TUIfly.

The company refused to pay compensation to passengers on cancelled flights following a strike by its aircrew in October 2016, citing the "extraordinary circumstance" clause.

In order to qualify for the clause, the event must be out of the airline's control by its nature or origin.

In the TUIfly case, the court ruled that the passengers should be compensated as the strike was a direct consequence of a social policy of the company and that the strike in question was not outside the company's control.


© 2018 AFP

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