EU’s new passenger rights

by Charlie Leocha on February 28, 2005

The European Union (EU) has adopted new rules that guarantee compensation for airline passengers who are bumped from flights or whose flights are delayed or cancelled. These revised regulations apply to all airlines — scheduled and chartered — flying within the EU as well as all EU airlines flying from non-EU countries to the EU.

These changes don’t make scintillating reading, but they will be important for any passenger flying to, within or from Europe.

Pay close attention to these details if planning to fly on the European low-cost carriers. They are notorious for delays and cancellations. No airline will be going out of its way to provide all the compensation now required. However, it will provide compensation if you request it.

The bottom line: know your rights and ask.

The new EU rules, which came into effect on February 17, 2005, now provide passengers with more rights and protections when it comes to bumping, delays and cancellations than passengers have in the United States.

The biggest differences between US regulations and the new EU rules is the breath of coverage. US regulations cover scheduled airlines with one set of rules. But they cover charter carriers with a much less strict set of guidelines. EU rules are identical for both scheduled carriers and charter operators. US rules have no firm guidance for damages in the case of delays.

These new EU regulations clearly work in favor of the passengers.

Anyone who has experienced long delays at airports that ruin business meetings and vacations, should be heartened by the news.

If the delay or cancellation is caused by weather or forces outside of the control of the airline, there is no compensation required.

Bumped passengers: Bumping rules are similar to those legislated in the USA. The compensation is much richer. Compensation must be paid immediately, in cash (or with vouchers if the passenger agrees) and the airlines must offer passengers the choice of a refund, a flight back to their original departure point or an alternative flight. The airlines must ask for volunteers and those volunteers must be offered the same compensation. Any bumped passenger will also have limited rights to meals, refreshments, accommodation and free e-mail or phone calls when necessary.

Cancelled flights: When flights are cancelled for reasons within the airline’s control, the airline must compensate passengers. This compensation is payable even if your flight has not left the airport. If the airline provides passengers at least two week’s notice or has provided another flight with similar departure times, there will be no compensation.

These rules will make airlines think twice about arbitrarily canceling flights.

Bumping and cancelled flight compensation

Flight length = less than 1,500 km
Delay = 2+ hours
Compensation = Euros 250.

Flight length = 1,500 to 3,500 km
Delay = 2 to 3 hours
Compensation = Euros 200

Delay = 3+ hours
Compensation = Euros 400

Flight length = 3,500+ km
Delay = 4+ hours
Compensation = Euros 600

Delayed flights: Passengers who are delayed the airlines are now obliged to offer meals and refreshments as well as lodging if an overnight stay is necessary.

Passengers with flights of 1,500 km or less who are delayed for two hours or more should be given meals and refreshments and two free telephone calls, e-mails or faxes.

Passengers with flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km with delays for three hours or more and for all longer flights delayed for four hours or more, should be given meals and refreshments and two free telephone calls, e-mails or faxes.

When the delay is at least five hours passengers are entitled to a refund of their ticket and a free return flight to the point of origin should the flight no longer serve any purpose. Otherwise the airlines are required to reroute passengers to their final destination. Again, meals, refreshments, lodging, phone and email are required at airline’s expense, if necessary.

To ensure that passengers are aware of these new rights, each check-in counter will post the following, “If you are denied boarding of if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance.”

Each time a passenger is denied boarding or a flight is cancelled, the airlines are required to provide written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance according to the new regulations.

Remember, passengers should ask for compensation. The airlines will not normally offer any. Travelers should know the rules of the air before agreeing to any compensation.

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