Every day around the world thousands of flights are cancelled for different reasons. Even though you may think your plans are ruined you still could take advantage of your consumer rights.
In 2004 in Europe has been created Regulation 261 (EC 261) with the idea to establish common entitlements for flight passengers’ compensation and help in case of a cancelled flight. The sum of the compensation may vary between 250 and 600 euro. Besides the member states of the European Union, the Regulation includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and Reunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands and covers all of the flights departing from the European Union. It excludes the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. If a flight departs outside the EU but should arrive in the EU, the Regulation would cover it only if the airline operating the flight is EU-based.
So, what does that mean?
- If you travel from Sofia to Milan: both Bulgaria and Italy are members of EU, so the flight is within the scope of the Regulation no matter of the airline.
- If you travel from Amsterdam to New York: Netherlands is in Europe and the USA is not; despite the flight being operated by а non-European airline it is within the scope of the Regulation.
- If you travel from Ottawa to Paris with Air France: the flight would be covered by the Regulation because Air France is European airline despite departing from а non-European country.
- If you travel from Ottawa to Brussels with Air Canada: the flight is not covered by the Regulation because it departs from a non-European country with non-European airline.
How to know when should file a claim for compensation?
If you decide to cancel your flight booking you cannot expect compensation from the airline because it is only in case the flight cancellation is the fault of the airline. Also, if you have been notified about your flight cancellation more than 14 days before its departure date the airline does not owe you compensation.
But, if you have been notified of the flight cancellation 14 days or less before the flight departure date, there are some important things you should know. Keep in mind that both take-off and landing conditions must be equal.
- Notification 7-13 days before flight departure with an alternate flight that departs no more than 2 hours earlier and arrives 4 hours later or less – no compensation.
- Notification 7-13 days before flight departure with an alternate flight that departs 2 hours earlier or more and arrives 4 hours later or more – compensation.
- Notification less than 7 days before flight departure with alternate flight that departs no more than 1 hour earlier or more and arrives 2 hours later or less – no compensation.
- Notification less than 7 days before flight departure with an alternate flight that departs 1 hour earlier or more and arrives 2 hours later or more – compensation.
- For example, if an airline informs you of its cancellation 4 days before the date of flight and offers an alternative flight arriving at you’re final destination less than 2 hours earlier than the original flight, but departing more than 1 hour earlier than planned. This means you are entitled to compensation.
Moreover, keep in mind that flights cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances are not eligible for compensation! This includes inclement weather, air traffic restrictions, bird collisions, security concerns, etc. Also, when the airport or air control staff goes on strike, the airline cannot be held responsible. However, a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice states that wildcat strikes from the airline staff give you the right to compensation because they are no longer regarded as extraordinary circumstances.
Technical failures and operational difficulties don’t fall in this category because they are the airline’s duty and do not excuse the airline from paying compensation.
Relocated for an earlier hour flight is covered by the Regulation. Also, if your flight departure time is moved a few hours earlier than planned you can file a claim for compensation. The amount of compensation you can get for a cancelled flight is between 250 and 600 euro.
When your plane is late at take-off by more than 3 hours, you are also entitled to all of the above. In addition, and more interestingly, if your plane arrives at your final destination 3 hours or more after what was initially planned, you can claim compensation. The amount will vary on the total distance of the journey and the length of the delay – at your destination, not at departure. Here is, in principle, how much you’re entitled to for your flight delay:
- 250€ for flights less than 1,500 km
- 400€ for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km and intra-community flights over 1,500km
- 600€ for a flight more than 3,500 km
However, as mentioned above, the length of the delay also impacts the compensation amount, for one specific case. In cases of flights longer than 3,500km but delayed by less than 4 hours, you are entitled to only 50% of the amount.
Flights within the EU are also called “intra-community” flights. For those, even if the distance is longer than 3,500km, you are only eligible to a maximum of 400€. If you decide to claim on you’re own, make sure to ask for the right amount, or the airline will know that you don’t have a full understanding of EC 261.
The airline must give you the choice between waiting for you’re plane to depart or not taking it and get a full refund of ъоур flight or a full refund of flights operated by this airline under the same booking (e.g. return or onward flights) with a flight back to you’re airport of departure, free of charge (if you’re already part-way through your journey).
The YourFlightRights foundation specialize in helping flight passengers to be well aware of their rights. In addition to that, you must know about your right to care in case of a cancellation of a flight.
If this happens, the airline is compelled to take care of you. Your “right to care” is an obligation for the airline to provide food and drink, proportionally to the length of the delay (it can be in the form of meal vouchers), access to phone calls and/or emails, so you can make arrangements (warn relatives supposed to pick you up, cancel a rental car etc., as well as accommodation and journey between the airport and the hotel, should you be delayed overnight. As it’s possible that the airline staff refuse to cooperate and to take care of you, feel free to make arrangements yourself: buy a meal, and if necessary, book a hotel room. Just don’t forget to keep the receipts: you can ask the airline to refund you afterwards. Again, these rights depend on the length of the delay and the type of flight. Please, make the difference between these additional rights and compensation – they are completely separate and even if the airline paid for the hotel and food, you are still eligible for full cash benefits.
However, if you were to fly in first-class and you ended up in economy class during the alternate flight, you are entitled to claim a refund ranging between 35% and 75% of you’re original ticket price.
What documents should me have in order to file a claim for compensation?
Make sure that you contact the airline the appropriate way – some airline will have you fill in an online form instead. Others require you to contact them via postal address. The easiest way to do so is by email. Look up the email address on their website, on the “contact” or “support” page. Describe in clear way what happened. Whichever option the airline offers for you to contact them, it will let you describe what happened. Your letter/form/email should include a description of what went wrong with your flight experience, how much money you claim for your flight disruption and the appropriate quote from the EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC 261). Escalate your claim to a National Enforcement Body (NEB) or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. Things do not end wif the answer of the airline. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for airlines to lie about events or abuse their passenger’s lack of кnoledge about their rights to avoid paying compensation. If you believe that you are entitled to compensation under EC 261, take ъоур claim to a regulator or adjudicator.
Depending on the country where the airline has its headquarters, there are certain time limits for filing a claim (limitation period). For example, the statute of limitations in the UK is 6 years. This means that if you have flown in or out of the UK, you can file a claim for a flight that took place 6 years ago. Below you can find a list of limitation periods in different countries:
|Czech Republic||3 years|
|United Kingdom||6 years|
Flight delays in the United States
Unlike the airlines in the European Union, when a flight cancellation in the US occurs, regulations are quite different – the airlines in the US are not required to pay compensation for passengers upon cancellation of flights. Typically, when the airline cancels your flight, you will be offered a rebooking of your next flight booking or a full refund of your ticket.
The Montreal Convention applies to international flights, including flights between the Member States as well as domestic flights within one Member State that involve a transfer to another State, regardless of whether that State has ratified the Montreal Convention. Like Regulation 261/2004, the Montreal Convention of 1999 establishes common rules for the compensation of passengers on international flights between participating countries. Today, more than 120 countries have acceded to and ratified the Convention.
Let’s take a simple look at it:
- Flight from Russia to Thailand (Both Parties): the flights are covered by the Montreal Convention.
- Domestic flight to China without transfer: does not enter the Montreal Convention.
- Flight from China to China Transfer to Thailand (Convention Member): Covered by the Montreal Convention.
- Flight from China to China via Vietnam (non-member): covered by the Montreal Convention.
Just like the Regulation 261/2004, the Montreal Convention is not applicable when flights are cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances (adverse weather, air traffic restrictions, security threats, political unrest, etc.) The main difference between the EU Regulation and the Montreal Convention is that unlike the first one, with the second you do not receive a guarantee for compensation. This is because the Montreal Convention only covers “damages” resulting from the repeal.