To protect passengers the European Union introduced EU regulation 261/2004.

Airlines carrying passengers within Europe or in to Europe are bound by these regulations that say they should compensate you if your flight is cancelled, overbooked or you are denied boarding. Following a court judgement last month you’re now ALSO entitled to a payout if your flight is held up for more than three hours. And, as that rule applies retrospectively, it affects delayed flights going back seven years. But some airlines don’t always follow these rules, leaving passengers frustrated at best, and out of pocket at worst.

Noel and Marie Scotland were due to fly out to Corfu with Small Planet Airlines in August. But a 24 hour delay meant they spent the first day of their holiday at the airport.

After waiting around for about two hours the couple were placed in a hotel but after six hours they were told it was time to move.

Under the rules the couple should have been given food and accommodation, but the only accommodation provided by Small Planet Airlines was the airport departure lounge. They didn’t receive any compensation for the delay either because according to EU rules at the time they weren’t entitled to any. However, last month’s court ruling means any passenger is entitled to at least 250 euros if their flight is held up for equal to or in excess of three hours – and compensation applies to delayed flights going back seven years.

EU Regulation 261 also applies to passengers whose flights don’t take off at all.

Robert Evans and Melissa Taylor were booked on a Thomas Cook flight from Tenerife to Bristol in September.

When they arrived they were informed that there would be a nine hour delay and were given a 6 Euro voucher for food – but after hours of waiting they saw on the board that their flight had been cancelled. If your flight is cancelled you have an automatic right to food, accommodation and upwards of 250 Euros in compensation, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. However, Thomas Cook offered no compensation. And even though they flew the couple out the next morning, on a different plane, to a different airport, they classed this as a delay, rather than a cancellation. They also didn’t offer the couple overnight accommodation.

Passengers who are denied boarding under certain circumstances are also entitled to accommodation, food and compensation according to the EU regulation but do all airlines follow this.

Newlyweds Ray and Sellina Mellon were prevented from getting on their Monarch flight back to Manchester following a two week honeymoon in Cyprus.

It turns out that passengers from a previous flight who had been delayed for 24 hours had been trying to get on their scheduled flight.

Although the ground staff initially informed them that this wouldn’t happen because they were allocated the flight, not long after their flight was given away to the delayed passengers.

The couple, along with their fellow travellers, had to wait at a hotel for sixteen hours before they could fly home.

Monarch later blamed the delay on technical problems but the couple state that they had watched the plane take off.

“If your flight is there and you’re about to board and they choose to put the delayed passengers on in front of you then you have been denied boarding and then you’re entitled to compensation.” says Alan Bowen, Travel Lawyer.

In this case they were entitled to 800 Euros but all Monarch actually offered the couple was flight vouchers of £150.

It insisted their flight had merely been delayed, and they’d not been denied boarding.

Another common issue passengers experience at airports is lost luggage. EU 261 regulation does not protect passengers in this respect but the Montreal Convention does offer some protection.

This rule means that if your carrier loses your bag, you’re entitled to compensation of up to £1,000.

Anika Duggal flew with Jet Airways in December 2011 and after checking in her suitcase she hasn’t seen it since.

Anika was flying to India and when she got there she was told that one piece of luggage was still in London – but three days later was informed that it was actually missing.

Despite her suitcase containing goods worth a lot more, all Jet Airways offered was £135 and they still haven’t paid her the compensation.

“The rules appear quite clear and providing the customer can show the value of her property then she should be able to make a valid claim”, says Alan Bowen.

Company Responses

 

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook says,

We appreciate how frustrating flight delays can be, so we'd like to sincerely apologise for the lengthy wait and the change to their return flight and thank our holidaymakers for their patience.

 

A Monarch Group Limited spokesperson says,

The European Court of Justice ruling, issued last month, will clarify some aspects of the law in relation to the EU regulations concerning denied boarding and delays to flights. At the time of this claim, the ruling had not been made.

This is a complex area of the law and there is an area of doubt relating to the definition of “extraordinary circumstances”. Monarch acknowledges that there was a delay in handling Mr and Mrs Mellon’s claim while we sought legal advice on this point.

For operational reasons, the aircraft originally allocated to operate the flight on which Mr and Mrs Mellon were passengers, was used to operate an earlier delayed flight. In view of the particular circumstances in this case we accept that this was a case of denied boarding. As a consequence of this a compensation payment in UK Sterling equivalent to €800 was made to Mr and Mrs Mellon on 22 October.

We apologise to Mr and Mrs Mellon for the inconvenience and distress this delay caused them, particularly as this was the flight bringing them home from their honeymoon.

 

A spokesperson for Small Planet Airlines says,

Small Planet Airlines sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience, experienced by the passengers of the Manchester – Corfu flight on 31st of August, 2012. The flight was delayed due to several issues:

Small Planet Airlines operates in strict compliance with all flight safety requirements as well as relevant normative-legal regulations. The London-Heraklion-London flight, which was ought to be conducted on an airplane, owned by the Aurela company, was postponed due to revealed aircraft flight safety shortcomings. As a result, the event triggered a chain of delays of some of other flights as well.

Small Planet Airlines decided to conduct the London-Heraklion-London flight with its own aircraft, which was planned to perform the Manchester-to-Corfu flight. As a result, the latter was postponed to a later time.

Deeply regretting such situations and fully understanding the inconvenience for our passengers, we always undertake all relevant measures to provide our passengers with the necessary care – depending on the duration of the delay, the passengers are offered with free drinks, food, as well as accommodation, excursions, etc. In regard to the Manchester–Corfu flight delay on the 31st August, 2012 it was our priority to minimize passengers‘ discomfort. We informed our passengers about their rights in the cases of a flight delay, offered them free-of-charge food and drinks and provided the accommodation (meals included) in two hotels, situated by the airport. The passengers of the Manchester–Corfu flight were transferred back to the airport due to the updated time of the departure. The issue was handled by Servisair.

However, after the aircraft performed the unplanned London-Heraklion-London flight, some flight safety shortcomings were revealed during a technical check. While the company specialists were expecting a necessary spare part to be delivered, the company was simultaneously searching for an alternative aircraft, which would perform the Manchester-Corfu-Manchester flight. The aforementioned issues triggered the alteration of the time of departure. All the passengers, who were waiting for the flight at the airport, were provided with meals twice during the period.

Small Planet Airlines notes that all flights are carried out in strict compliance with safety requirements and relevant normative-legal regulations. Small Planet Airlines aircraft are maintained and serviced in strict compliance with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) requirements.

Should even a minor deviation from safety standards be revealed during a technical check, the company makes no concessions and postpones the flight until all issues are being effectively resolved. Unfortunately, flight delays are inevitable. This is an industry-wide practice, since only after the elimination of a malfunction we may be ensured that the flight is being conducted with a 100% airworthy aircraft.

Once again, on the behalf of the entire company we express our sincerest apologies to all of our passengers due to the delay of the flight.

A spokesperson for Jet Airways says,

Jet Airways is a customer friendly airline, offering excellent services to all its passengers. As such, we do not believe in inconveniencing our guests in any way. We understand that Baggage Delivery is an important aspect of our service levels. However, due to various factors, such instances may occur. If upon arrival, a guest does not receive his or her baggage, a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) is raised based on the description and contents specified by the guest. A tracking process is then put in place, which takes approximately 14 days. If the bag is not traceable within 14 days, it is declared lost and the claim is then processed.

With regard to Miss. Anika Duggal's claim, our Service team regularly updated the guest on the baggage tracking status. Since the bag was not tracked after 14 days the bag was declared lost. In the absence of any supporting bills/receipts our services team offered Ms Duggal a suitable compensation. Although Miss Duggal initially rejected the compensation, she eventually agreed to the same.

However there was a time lapse in settling the amount for which we apologise to Ms. Anika Duggal. As a goodwill gesture for the inconvenience caused by this delay we have now compensated Ms Duggal with an additional £50/-. A cheque for £212/- has been mailed to her yesterday.

 

The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) says,

Passengers rights in the case of delays, cancellations and denied boarding:

Under European regulations (EC261), passengers have important 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:

  • If a passenger’s flight has been cancelled or delayed for several hours their airline must look after them. This means providing food, drinks, and some communications. If they are delayed overnight, this also means providing passengers with a hotel and travel to and from it.
  • If a passenger’s flight is cancelled, their airline must offer them an alternative flight or a full refund. The passenger may also be entitled to compensation if the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled departure.
  • If a passenger is denied boarding or “bumped” from a flight, the airline must offer them an alternative flight or a refund. The passenger will also be 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.

It’s important that passengers are aware of these rights, particularly in times of major disruption. Further information for passengers experiencing major disruption is available from the CAA website here.

Where do these rights apply?

These rights apply to all flights from European Union (EU) airports. They also apply to all flights to EU airports, from outside of the European Union, on an EU airline. (EU in this sense includes all EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.)

Extraordinary circumstances

Passengers will not be eligible for compensation if the delay or cancellation was the result of extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances are situations that are beyond the airline’s control such as industrial strikes, severe weather and security risks. Technical faults may be deemed extraordinary circumstances but this will depend on the nature of the fault, so each case would need to be looked at on its own merit. However, airlines are still to provide support to passengers in the case of long delays, regardless of the reason for that delay.

Update on compensation for delays

A Court of Justice European Union (CJEU) ruling on 23 October 2012 clarified that passengers on flights delayed for three or more hours should be entitled compensation, in the same way they can if their flight was cancelled. This followed a number of different legal challenges to the regulation from both passengers and industry.

To assist passengers who would like to make a claim for compensation, we have published a package of support on our website including a draft claim letter and FAQs. We are also ready to take on passenger complaints if they feel their airlines have not dealt with them fairly. More information is available here.

Lost baggage

When hold luggage is lost, delayed or damaged airlines are liable for the losses. However, there are no rules that fix the amount of compensation passengers should receive. This will depend on the value of what the passenger has lost. Under the internationally recognised Montreal Convention, the maximum passengers can claim for is around £1000.

More information is available here.