Remember when we talked about the passenger rights – and the role of the EU Regulation 261/2004.
If your flight departs anywhere within Europe or lands anywhere within Europe with a European airline but is canceled without two weeks’ advance notice or there is a significant delay, you are protected by the Regulation and if there are more than 3 hours late to the destination, you could be owed compensation. All of this is only if the reason for the cancellation or delay isn’t an extraordinary circumstance – i.e. out of the airline’s control.
But, if there is a delay – whether it’s deemed an extraordinary circumstance or not – If you’re held up for two hours or more, you’re always entitled to assistance if you’re flying from the EU or with an EU airline.
|When you’re entitled to assistance|
|Type of flight||Distance||How long you have to wait|
|Short-haul||Up to 1,500km (932 miles)Flight time is usually about 2 hours or less||2 hours or more|
|Medium-haul||Between 1,500km – 3,500km (932-2,175 miles)Flight time is usually between 2 about 4 hours||3 hours or more|
|Long-haul||More than 3,500km (2,175 miles)Flight time is usually more than 4 hours||4 hours or more|
You can receive two free phone calls, faxes or emails plus free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay and in case an overnight stay is required, a free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers. These rights apply whether you’ve boarded or are waiting at the airport – if you’re delayed by two hours or more, you have the right to assistance.
Let’s get back to the extraordinary circumstances and what they may be. Flight delays may occur if there are extreme weather (snowstorm, volcanic ash, etc.), natural disasters, bird strike, hidden manufacturing defects in the aircraft or industrial action unrelated to the airline (baggage handlers, air traffic control strikes, etc.), drone disruptions, security threats, political or civil unrest or even an unruly or sick passenger.
And opposite, let’s make it clear what do the extraordinary circumstances not include. The list goes with staff shortages or strikes, denied boarding because of an overbooked flight, technical problems with the plane identified during routine maintenance or delaying because of a previous flight being affected by bad weather.
Is the weather an extraordinary circumstance and if yes, when?
If a flight is grounded because of severe weather and isn’t able to take off or land, this is an extraordinary circumstance. However, bad weather must be really extreme – like a freak snowstorm, for example, or fog, if it is bad enough for Air Traffic Control to either ground all the flights or limits the number taking off and landing. Maybe you would ask how could you know if the weather is severe enough? It is simple – are other flights taking off?
On the other hand, light snow at an airport near the Alps in the middle of the winter is not an extraordinary circumstance. As well as a flight delayed because a previous flight is disrupted due to bad weather – direct affection is needed in order for it to be called an extraordinary circumstance.
It might sound strange, but a strike could be also an extraordinary circumstance but depends on who is striking. If it is the airport staff – baggage handlers, airlines don’t have any control of this. The situation is quite different there because you can’t claim extra compensation for delays but you’re still entitled to assistance.
But, if the striking ones are the pilots, things change. This is considered to be within the airline’s control because it is negotiating with its staff. Kind of situation happened to Ryanair in the summer of 2018 – all of the pilots and cabin crews walked out over work and pay conditions. But the main thing is that the airline rejected all the claims for compensation saying that it was an extraordinary circumstance. The Civil Aviation Authority has embarked on this stuff with the argument that the passengers should have been compensated.
Another important thing is the mass disruption and – like in case if all flights have been grounded because of a drone, the airline must notify or to re-route or to put you up in a hotel. In case all the hotels around are full and the airline isn’t able to provide transfer and you have to deal with this by yourself or going back home, the airline must reimburse you, of course, for a reasonable cost. Ask a customer representative for help. If you have to go home by train, taxi or car, the airline must return you the train or taxi fare as well as for the petrol money if you drive back. If somehow this leads to additional parking charges, you are owed to claim for compensation/reimbursing.
The airline will have to provide clear evidence of the cause of the delay if your claim for compensation because of a disagreement and it is rejected. If you are in the UK, you can note the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but only if the flight was canceled or delayed departing from or arriving in the UK or the airline is based in the UK. If the flight that has been canceled or delayed is wholly outside the UK you need to complain to the airline regulator in the country where the situation occurred. Remember that it is always the best idea to seek legal advice before taking this step given the associated costs.