School holiday time is upon us again. For many people this will mean taking a flight abroad to a favourite destination. But it is now more likely than ever that you will encounter problems with your flight. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recently revealed that delays so far this year have already more than doubled, compared to 2017. European Air Traffic Control Delays Loom over Summer Air Travel.
IATA says “Data from Eurocontrol shows that in the first half of 2018, Air Traffic Management (ATM) delays more than doubled to 47,000 minutes per day, 133% more than in the same period last year. Most of these delays are caused by staffing and capacity shortages as well as other causes such as weather delays and disruptive events. The average delay for flights delayed by air traffic control limitations reached 20 minutes in July, but the longest delay reached 337 minutes (5 hours 37 minutes).”
Companies do not do enough to inform people of their rights and most people do not get the compensation they are owed. So, here are some tips on what to do if your flight is postponed, cancelled or you are denied boarding.
1) Compensation for delays is only due on flights in the EU or when using an EU airline arriving two hours (for cancelled and denied boarding flights up to 1,500km, 3 hours for over this length) or more late. How much you are entitled to depends on how long the delay and how long the flight. It changes again if the flight is cancelled before/after seven days before you are due to depart. It does not reflect the price of the flight and is a fixed amount of compensation.
2) If your flight is cancelled or delayed for several hours – the airline must look after passengers. It must provide food, drinks, and some communications. If you are delayed overnight, this also means providing you with a hotel and the travel to and from it. (All these must still be provided even if the delay was out of the airline’s control).
3) If your flight is cancelled – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a full refund. You may also be entitled to compensation if the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled departure.
4) Denied boarding or “bumped” from a flight – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a refund. Passengers are entitled to compensation. (Between €125 and €600 depending on length of flight).
5) If your flight is delayed by more than 5 hours and you no longer want to travel you, and your fellow passengers, are entitled to a full refund.
6) If you miss your connecting flight and so arrived at the final destination more than 3 hours late, you are entitled to compensation of between €250 and €600. However, this is only the case if you book both flights together but they can be with different airlines.
7) Airlines may advise you to make alternative travel arrangements, then claim back the cost later. If you do this, try to keep costs down as much as you can, keep receipts and write down the name of the person giving this advice. Book with the same airline if at all possible.
8) Airlines may try and fight your claim! Be ready with quoting your legal rights. You are due to compensation under Regulation (EC) 261/2004. In March 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that airlines must pay compensation when passengers miss a connecting flight and arrive more than 3 hours late, even for destinations outside of the EU.
9) The airlines do not have to respond to complaints within an official time limit, so set them a date by which you expect to receive a response. At the very least they should send you “holding letter” of investigation upon receipt of your complaint.
10) If you are not satisfied with the response you can take the issue to an Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, such as CEDR for BA flights, or make a claim through the online small claims system.
You have up to 6 years to request compensation, so look at cases where you have been refused compensation in the past. It is such a small minority of people who claim this compensation, airlines should do more to ensure passengers are given what’s due instead of blatantly ripping them off!
The Denied Boarding Regulation applies to passengers departing from an airport within the EU, whatever the airline is, and also applies to passengers departing from an airport outside the EU for an airport within the EU, if the operating air carrier is a Community carrier. (I.e. a carrier with a valid operating license granted by an EU state).
Under European regulations (EC261), passengers have significant rights if their flight is delayed, cancelled or they are denied boarding. These rights have been in place across Europe since February 2005 and the CAA is the national enforcement body for them here in the UK. The rights cover the following:
Flight cancelled or delayed for several hours – the airline must look after passengers. It must provide food, drinks, and some communications. If passengers are delayed overnight, this also means providing them with a hotel and travel to and from it. (All these must still be provided even if the delay was out of the airline’s control).
Flight is cancelled – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a full refund. The passengers may also be entitled to compensation if the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled departure.
Denied boarding or “bumped” from a flight – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a refund. Passengers are entitled to compensation.
If a passenger’s flight is delayed by more than 5 hours and they no longer want to travel they are entitled to a full refund.
The Civil Aviation Authority says “Sometimes airlines may advise you to make alternative travel arrangements, then claim back the cost later. If you do this, try to keep costs down as much as you can, keep receipts and record the name of the person giving this advice. Book with the same airline if at all possible.”
If you accept a refund you cannot additionally claim compensation. It does seem a bit unfair, but the compensation can only be claimed if you experienced the delay as part of your journey not sitting in your departure airport. If you didn’t travel, then you are not entitled to compensation.
Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies to all flights wholly within the EU/EEA or Swiss region, or departing an EU/EEA or Swiss airport, or arriving in the region and with an EU/EEA or Swiss airline. Under EU rules, airlines must pay compensation for cancelled or heavily delayed flights, however, they can escape this under some ‘extraordinary circumstances’. This can include sudden severe weather events for example. Pilots turning up late, cancelled booking due to under booking etc. are examples of the airline at fault and so passengers can complain and get compensation.
The decisions made in the Huzar v Jet2 and Dawson v Thomson cases confirmed that routine technical difficulties are not extraordinary circumstances. Ron Huzar was delayed for 27 hours on a Malaga to Manchester flight. The delay had been caused by faulty wiring and Jet2 had claimed that this was unforeseen and categorised as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. In the Dawson v Thomson case, James Dawson was claiming for an eight-hour delay on a flight to the Dominican Republic in 2006; his claim was made in 2012. The airline refused to pay, citing the Montreal Convention, which limits claims to two years after an incident.
On October 31st 2014 the Supreme Court upheld the rulings at appeal. Delays caused by technical problems cannot be categorised as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances and not liable for compensation and consumers have up to six years after the flight to make qualifying compensation claims. A judge in Liverpool county court threw out applications on the 25th February 2015 by Jet2, Ryanair, Flybe and Wizz Air to keep claims on hold until a case in Holland about technical delays (Van dear Kans v KLM) was decided. He stated that cases should be settled in line with existing passenger-rights rules.
Where a strike involves employees of another organisations, eg. air traffic controllers, an airline cannot be expected to pay compensation for a delay that realistically is outside of their control. However, if delays occur as a result of a strike by an airline’s own employees, then passengers should be entitled to compensation. I await someone taking an airline to court over industrial action not being an exceptional circumstance arguing that had the airline done something then the action could have been avoided and therefore was in their control. So if you were affected by industrial action and had your flight cancelled, I encourage you to go to court! Let me know if you do!
Compensation for delays is only due on flights arriving over three hours or more late. (2 hours for flights 1,500km and under). How much you are entitled to depends on how long the delay and how long the flight. It changes again if the flight is cancelled before/after seven days before you are due to depart. It does not reflect the price of the flight and is straight out compensation. Personally I don’t like this, it buys into the “compensation culture”. Genuine redress and goodwill gestures reflect time and amount spent on matters but these regulations do not take this into account and therefore there is a risk that the low cost airlines will be hardest hit and consequently have to put up their fares. I feel compensation should be reflective, but while it isn’t, this is what we have, set amounts set in Euros so depends on where we are with exchange rates! When I wrote How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! which includes more details about how to claim for what, the exchange rate meant you would be getting £200 for a flight up to 1,500km as of 29th June 2015 and the new edition you’ll be getting £178!
If, due to a delay of less than 3 hours, you miss your connecting flight and so arrived at the final destination more than 3 hours late, you are entitled to compensation of between €125 and €600. However, this is only the case if you book both flights together.
Airlines will really fight this one! But! The Air France SA v Heinz-Gerke Folkerts& Luz-Tereza Folkerts 26/02/13 case the Judge ruled that “Article 7 of 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 delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 must be interpreted as meaning that compensation is payable, on the basis of that article, to a passenger on directly connecting flights who has been delayed at departure for a period below the limits specified in Article 6 of that regulation, but has arrived at the final destination at least three hours later than the scheduled arrival time, given that the compensation in question is not conditional upon there having been a delay at departure and, thus, upon the conditions set out in Article 6 having been met.” So quote that!
Update – In March 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that airlines must pay compensation when passengers miss a connecting flight and arrive more than 3 hours late at a destination outside of the EU. Claudia Wegener v Royal Air Maroc SA 31 May 2018.
Consumers who have had compensation claims rejected for any of the reasons rejected by the courts can now re-submit the claims to the airlines as long as the delay was less than six years ago.
If you have had a claim refused write again citing the relevant legal case above and follow the tips for complaining. You can also go to the relevant ADR scheme.
The airlines do not have to respond to complaints within an official time limit, so set them a date by which you expect to receive a response. At the very least a “holding letter” of investigation should be sent.