If your flight is delayed by more than three hours or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation up to EUR 600 under EU law, retrospective up to six years.
Jet-setters, expats and international travellers know all too well the nerves a delayed or cancelled plane can cause, particularly if you have multiple flights to catch, transport services booked at your destination, or even loved ones waiting for your arrival. It can be a stressful time, besides frustrating and time-consuming while you’re stuck at an airport. In the past, your time and nerves were rarely compensated – although a recent EU ruling could change that. Thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings, the likelihood of receiving compensation for disrupted flights has increased. Flightright will clarify these EU regulations, along with your rights.
Changes to EU law: improved chance of compensation
Since the EU Supreme Court passed the EC Regulation 261/2004, passengers have been entitled to claim compensation from airlines for flight delays, cancellations and denied boarding, except if the problem was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. All too often, airlines have classed aircraft ‘technical problems’ as being an example of extraordinary circumstances.
However, due to an updated court ruling in 2014, it has become clear that airlines will now be obliged to pay compensation for flights that have been disrupted by ordinary technical faults, without being able to fall back on the ‘extraordinary clause’ to avoid payouts. Additionally, the updated ruling implies that passengers can claim compensation for flight disruptions going back six years.
European law entitles passengers the right to compensation on all flights within the European Union, including:
- all flights that depart from an EU airport;
- all flights that land at an EU airport with an EU carrier (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland).
The laws have very strict rules on what is expected of airlines when their flights suffer problems, as well as when a passenger is entitled to compensation.
Who is entitled to claim compensation?
The first situation where the laws come into effect is when the flight is subject to a significant delay, usually defined as around five hours or more, or if you are denied boarding or your flight is cancelled or overbooked.
In such cases, the airline is liable to give you a full refund of your fare and free transport to your original departure point. If you don’t accept a refund, the airline is obliged to offer you alternative transport to reach your intended destination. The airline must inform of your rights, and must supply a reason for the disrupted flight after two or three hours (or up to four hours for long flights).
Depending on the length of delay, you will also be entitled to refreshments, meals, communications (such as a free phone call), and if necessary, a free night of accommodation. This will apply if your flight is late by more than two hours on short flights, three hours on mid-haul flights, and four hours on long flights, regardless if the delay is the airline’s fault or not. If the airline doesn’t provide care and assistance, you can claim compensation for any related costs you incur.
Most importantly, however, is that you are entitled to monetary compensation if you are denied boarding, your flight is cancelled, or your flight arrives more than three hours later than the schedule arrival time stated on your ticket. Compensation amounts range from EUR 250 to EUR 600 depending on the distance of the flight (details below). As payment, the companies may offer vouchers to go towards the cost of a future flight. You are not obliged to accept – you are entitled to the money.
But airlines are only liable to pay compensation when the flight disruption was their fault; staffing problems, not having the aircraft in place or under-booking all count. You will not be entitled to compensation if the disruption was out of airline’s control, such as bad weather, strikes, or air traffic control problems, as the situation will fall under ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Additionally, you cannot claim compensation if you were informed of a cancelled flight two weeks before departure date or you were offered an alternative route that had a similar schedule to your original flight.
How much compensation can you claim?
There are very strict rules concerning who is eligible for compensation and under what circumstances.
In general, the length of your intended flight will determine the amount of compensation you can claim.
If your flight was to another EU country, you can expect to receive EUR 250 for flights less than 1,500km and EUR 400 for flights more than 1,500km.
If your flight was between an EU airport and a non-EU airport, you can claim from EUR 250 (for less than 1,500km) up to EUR 600 (for flight exceeding 3,500km).
If the carrier offered you an alternative flight with a similar schedule, the compensation may be reduced by 50 percent.
These compensation amounts are strictly for passengers who were denied boarding, had their flight cancelled or arrived more than three hours late to their final destination than stated on their ticket.
For passengers seeking to claim compensation for lost, damaged or delayed baggage, they may be entitled to receive up to EUR 1,220 from the airline, or higher if the passenger provided an advance declaration (for a fee) that their luggage contained valuable items. The declaration can be completed at the latest at check in. For baggage claims, you need to ask the airline to provide a form as there is no standard application, and file it within seven days of receiving your luggage, or 21 days if your luggage was delayed.
How to make your claim
Under the EU initiative, you can submit an air passenger rights EU complaint form directly to your airline. You need to make sure you keep a copy of your application for your records.
If the airline does not respond within six weeks or if you are unhappy with their response, you can then submit a copy of the same form to the national enforcement body in the EU country where the incident took place.
If your claim is rejected, you can contact the Civil Aviation Authority or the European Consumer Centre to see if they believe you are entitled to compensation.
If the incident happened while departing from an airport outside the EU but involved an EU airline, you can send a complaint to the relevant national enforcement body in the EU country you were travelling to.
Passengers are free to make their claim directly to the airline, but it can be a time-consuming effort if the airline tries to refute or delay the claim. If you want to avoid the hassle or increase your chances of getting compensation, there are also companies that work solely on seeking compensation from airlines on your behalf.
Using a company to make your claim
Companies that offer compensation services have access to large databases of flight information, cancellations and previous legal claims and their results. Using this information, their systems can determine the likelihood of your claim having a positive or negative outcome. These companies can then arrange and handle all the details of worthwhile claims, with the aim of securing the maximum amount you are allowed under the law.
There is usually little risk of being out-of-pocket from using these services. The preliminary consultation is generally free, and companies will only proceed with claims that have a likely positive outcome. Generally these companies will offer a no-win, no-fee service, so you will only pay fees if the claim is successful and compensation is paid out. Your claim will be handled by the company, which will pass on the money to you minus their fee.
Flightright / Expatica