Whenever your Vacation Flight Doesn’t Take Off

One frequently seen picture during the vacation season is the flocks of people stranded at airports. After the Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delays of flights, went into effect in February 2005, the national aviation agencies received more than 18,000 complaints up to September 2006. In Germany alone, almost 1,600 passengers complained of being denied boarding, cancels or longer delays. This article will briefly discuss the rights of travelers by plane. What more can be done than just complaining to the aviation agency?

Whenever your Vacation Flight Doesn’t Take Off

 


1.)  EU Air Travel

All passengers can claim the rights arising from this European Regulation when they can present a valid booking confirmation. These rights exist for scheduled or charter flights that start from a European airport and for all flights of European carriers with a destination in the European Community; unless the stranded persons have been cared for in the non-community country.

2.)  Support at the Airport

In case you have been stranded at an airport, you are entitled to collect supporting services from the carrier that generally depend on the individual case and duration of delay. These include free beverages and meals during waiting time. You can also either place two calls, send two faxes, or two eMails. If the time of departure will be the next day at the earliest, the airliner will have to sponsor a night in a hotel as well as the transfer costs to and from the hotel. In legalese, you will read “right to care” or “assistance” when it comes to these “treats”.

3.)  Denying Boarding

When an air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding a flight, it has to first call for volunteers to surrender their reservations in exchange for benefits. The conditions for these benefits are to be negotiated. If an insufficient number of volunteers comes forward to allow the remaining passengers with reservations to board the flight, the airliner may then deny boarding to passengers against their will. If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them.

The airliner denying boarding a flight is obligated to provide you with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with this regulation. This notice is to be hung out at check-in and that in a clearly legible manner containing the following text:

“If you are denied boarding, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance. The contact details of the national aviation body are to given to you in written form."

4.)  Delay

The airliner canceling a flight is obligated to provide you with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with this regulation. This notice is to be hung out at check-in and that in a clearly legible manner containing the following text:

“If your flight is delayed for more than two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance. The contact details of the national aviation body are to be given to you in written form.”

Your rights are

Delay Distance of Destination Rights
two hours 1500 km free beverages and meals,
in case of need also hotel accommodation
three hours 3500 km free beverages and meals,
in case of need also hotel accommodation
five hours regardless reimbursement of ticket, return flight when connecting flight is delayed

5.)  Cancellation

The airliner canceling a flight is obligated to provide you with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with this regulation. This notice is to be hung out at check-in a clearly legible manner containing the following text:

“If your flight is cancelled, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance. The contact details of the national aviation body are to be given to you in written form.”

In case of cancellation of a flight, you

  • are to be instructed by the air carrier on all your rights;
  • are to be offered assistance by the air liner, as well as, in event of rerouting when the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance; and
  • can claim compensation as described further below, unless:
    • you are informed of the no-fly at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure; or
    • you are informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered a different flight, allowing you to depart no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure and to reach your final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or
    • you are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing you to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure and to reach your final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

6.)  Changing Classes

Is there anything you can do when a carrier changes your traveling class from the one booked? Not so much about the change itself. If the new class is more expensive, then you are actually getting a deal and the carrier may not demand any surcharges or changing fees. Reimbursement is to be executed within seven days. If the class is lower, you are entitled to reduce the travel price by either

  • 30% for all flights of 1,500 km or less,
  • 50% for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 km, except flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
    or
  • 75% for all flights not falling under (a) or (b), including flights between the Community and the French overseas departments.

7.)  Damaged and Delayed Luggage

You arrived safely and punctually at your destination but not your luggage? Start praying for its recovery… Should it not be found, you are entitled to a maximum of € 1,200 in damages. You must report your loss within seven days after arrival to your carrier. If your luggage is late, then you have 21 days to report its loss. For more details to this question, please also read the article on Lost Flight Luggage.

It might be a good idea to print this article and take it with you – just in case… You can download a printer-friendly PDF file by clicking these words. Whenever your flight fails, have a heart for the ground crew: smile and negotiate calmly and kindly. It’s not their personal fault that you can’t fly.

8.)  Damages

In cases of a cancel, denied boarding, and in significant delays, the amount of the financial compensation is in relation to air route and how much the actual time of flight differs from the original planning (Art. 7 of the Directive). An example: Your flight has been cancelled and the airliner does not inform you in time, i.e. not within two weeks, and does not offer you a different flight, you are entitled to damages – along with the ticket costs. Your financial compensation will be

  • € 250 for a flight up to 1,500 km,

  • € 400 for distances between 1,500 and 3,500 km, and

  • € 600 for lengths more than 3,500 km.

If you take a substitute flight, your indemnification will be reduced by 50%.

Whenever the delay is more than five hours or your flight has been cancelled, you can demand to have your ticket refunded, when the cancel has spoiled the reason of your trip. Keep in mind, you will have to persuade the company that the flight makes no sense for you anymore. Just saying “My purpose of flying is spoiled. I want to be refunded.”, is legally irrelevant. If you wanted to visit an aunt for her eightieth anniversary, that might make for a reasonable purpose that you can cancel the contract. If you just wanted to leave for the weekend, then best would be to renegotiate that you choose a different weekend and travel then.

In the case you are stranded, you can claim a return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity or re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at a later date at your convenience, subject to availability of seats.

9.)  Disclaimers

However, any and all liability is barred if the carrier can prove that if the disturbance in air traffic arises from an Act of God. The simple excuse “Sorry, we can’t transport you because of an Act of God.” is insufficient. The airliner must describe in detail what this Act of God is that the circumstance happened unexpectedly and inescapably. Typical examples of an Act of God are canceling due to a terror warning, technical defect of the plane, bad weather, or strike.

10.)  VIPs

No, the law is not thinking of stars, celebrities or politicians! Persons with reduced mobility or special needs are to be given priority treatment. Persons with special needs are, for example, unattended children, certified service dogs. With regard to blind and visually impaired persons, their needs shall be considered using appropriate alternative means.

Related Articles:

Lost Flight Luggage