It Pays to Know Your EU Passenger Rights

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Travelling by air has become affordable, efficient and accessible for many passengers around the world. However, along with the relative ease of this type of travel come the inevitable mishaps which can at best, delay your journey and at worst, ruin an entire trip.  When your flight is delayed or cancelled, or you have been denied boarding, it’s useful to know where you stand against the airline.  If you don’t, there’s a good chance you are missing out on the compensation you’re entitled to.

EU Passenger Protection

The EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004 stipulates that certain flights will be covered in the event of an irregularity. This includes flights within the EU, or from the EU to a non-EU country, no matter where the airline is headquartered. Also covered are flights from a non-EU country to the EU, as long as the airline has its headquarter within the EU. Flights which are not included in the regulation are those which fly from a non-EU country to the EU, where the airline is headquartered outside the EU.

Extraordinary Circumstances

Just as important as knowing when you can make a claim, is knowing when the airline cannot be held responsible. These cases are called ‘extraordinary circumstances’, and when they are the cause of a flight issue, the airline is exempt.  Airlines must prepare as much as possible for foreseeable issues; however, situations do arise which are impossible to predict.  Examples of extraordinary circumstances are sudden bad weather, such as a lightning strike or a hurricane; or an airport personnel strike, which is completely separate from the airline and therefore out of their hands.

In contrast, if the airline fails to de-ice the plane in the middle of winter, they are to blame because this is a predictable situation and must provide compensation. Additionally, when airline personnel goes on strike, it falls under the responsibility of the airline.

The Most Common Issues When Flying

Of course, there is a multitude of things that can go wrong when travelling by plane. The three situations that affect air passengers the most are flight delays, flight cancellations and denied boarding.  But where is the line drawn and when are you entitled to compensation from the airline?  All cases of compensation described below are only in effect when the flight is covered by the EU regulation as previously outlined.

  • Flight Delay

If your flight is delayed by more than 3 hours, you can receive compensation of up to €600 (approx. £540). As well, with a delay of 2 hours or more, you should be given additional services such as meals and refreshments.  If your flight is delayed by over 5 hours, the airline must provide free hotel accommodation, as well as free transport to and from the hotel.

  • Flight Cancellation

When you are notified of a flight cancellation 14 days or less before the scheduled departure date, the airline should compensate you. Depending on the notification period, just like in the event of a delayed flight, you should receive up to €600 plus additional services.

  • Denied Boarding

When caused by overbooking by the airline, meaning no fault of the passenger, a full refund for the unused ticket as well as the next available flight to your destination free of charge must be provided. As with flight cancellations and delays, the passenger is entitled to additional services.


Delay at the Destination

When we talk about flight delay in terms of claiming compensation, it is the delay at the destination, not at your point of departure.  If you arrive at the destination airport more than 3 hours after the scheduled time, you should be compensated by the airline. This includes situations where you have been denied boarding or your flight was cancelled, and an alternative flight is late.

An important thing to take note of is when a plane is, in fact, considered to have arrived.  The European Court of Justice has ruled that a flight has arrived when at least one door is open, and passengers can exit the aircraft.  So, in a case where your plane lands on time but is waiting on the tarmac for over 3 hours, you have a claim against the airline.

Compensation Amounts

For the three flight irregularities – cancellations, delays and denied boarding – the distance of your flight plays a key role when calculating how much compensation you should receive. To put it simply, the longer the flight, the more the passenger should be compensated.

Here is a brief overview of compensation in relation to flight distance:

  • Flights of over 3,500 km: €600 (approx. £540)
  • Flights between 1,500 and 3,500km: €400 (approx. £350)
  • Flights under 1,500km: €250 (approx. £220)

Making a Claim

80% of passengers are unaware of their rights. Of those that do fight their case against the airline, only about 5% manage to do so independently. Airlines have the backing of extensive legal teams and are experts in arguing their cases in court. This is intimidating – not to mention costly – process and it is tricky to navigate the complicated world of passenger rights. To make a claim yourself, a letter must be sent to the airline outlining the situation, with proof that you have a case – however, it is common for the help of legal services to be required.  Alternatively, to reduce the cost, stress and time involved in fighting for your rights, you can turn to an online company which not only enables passengers to check if they have a claim but also pursues your case in court if necessary.  Dealing with airlines is no easy task, so it helps to have legal travel law experts to take care of it for you, without the financial risk involved when pursuing the case independently.