Flight Delayed? Know Your Rights!!!

Note: For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on travel out of and into the GCC.

 

We’ve all been there. You’re at the airport, waiting to board your flight, and you get that dreaded notification:

“Flight Delayed”

More often than not, these delays are a minor inconvenience. However sometimes those delays can be an absolute nightmare. Most passengers don’t know that airlines are mandated to compensate for delays. Compensation varies based on numerous factors, which I’ll expand upon in this post. More worryingly, passengers, in most cases, just accept the delay, and never engage with the airline about compensation. Airlines would gladly accept this behaviour on the part of passengers, as guess what, it’s cheaper for them.

So as let’s establish this fact right off the top:

Never wait for the airline to tell you what your rights are. Know your rights, and fight for them!!!

I hope that after reading this post you’ll be a more educated traveller, and that you’ll be better prepared to deal with flight delays the next time they occur.

 

 

Background

Passengers’ right vary significantly based on two factors:

  • Nationality of airline
  • Destination/origin of flight

In 2004, the European Union passed a very passenger-friendly regulation (EU Regulation 261/2004), outlining passenger rights in the event of a delay, or cancellation. This law applies to:

  • All European airlines, regardless of destination/origin
  • All non-European airlines flying from the EU (non-European airlines flying into the EU are excluded from the regulation)

For example this regulation would apply to an Air France flight from Sao Paolo to New York (I highly doubt this is an actual route, but this is only for the sake of argument).

It would also apply to an Emirates flight from Paris to Dubai. An Emirates flight from Dubai to Paris is not covered under this regulation, as the originating flight is outside the EU.

Passenger rights vary significantly depending whether or not the above detailed applies. First I’ll talk about passenger rights under the EU Regulations scenario, then the dreaded non-EU regulations scenario.

 

EU Regulations Scenario

First to get protection under this regulation, you must:

  • be holding a confirmed reservation for the flight

and

  • have presented at check-in no later than 45 minutes prior to the published departure time (unless a revised departure time is communicated by the airline).

This regulation applies to all citizens, not just EU citizens.

 

 

Delays

Airlines are mandated to provide assistance (such as food and refreshments) and monetary compensation, in the event certain delay thresholds are reached.

The airline is obliged to provide “assistance” if the below detailed occurs:

  • Delay of 2 hours or more for a flight up to 1,500km in distance
  • Delay of 3 hours or more for:
    • All intra-EU flights above 1,500km in distance
    • All flights between 1,500-3,000km
  • Delay of 4 hours or more which are not covered above

To simplify, flights covering the GCC fall under the last category. Be aware of the other categories if you have other travel plans outside the GCC.

In addition to assistance, airlines are obliged to provide compensation to passengers if the below detailed occurs:

  • €250: flights 1,500km in distance or less that are delayed by 3 hours or more
  • €400: flights within the EU more than 1,500km in distance that are delayed by 3 hours or more
  • €400: all flights between 1,501-3,500km in distance that are delayed by 3 hours or more
  • €600: all flights over 3,500km that are delayed by 3 hours or more

To simplify, flights covering the GCC fall under the last category. Be aware of the other categories if you have other travel plans outside the GCC.

Critical note: the cost of assistance is never to be deducted from the monetary compensation. Example: let’s say you get a food voucher for €20, and you’re entitled to a €250 compensation, you should received a total of €270 worth of assistance plus compensation.

Passengers are entitled to hotel accommodation, including transportation to and from the airport, if the delay requires an overnight stay.

If a flight is delayed for more than 5 hours, passengers have the right to abandon the trip all together, and receive a full refund on tickets unused and used tickets. Passengers are also entitled to receive a flight back to their original destination if they chose to abandon the flight.

 

Cancellation

Passengers are eligible for the following monetary compensation in the event of a cancellation:

  • €250: all flights less than 1,500km
  • €400: Intra-EU flights more than 1,500km
  • €400: all flights between 1,500-3,500km
  • €600: all flights more than 3,500km

The above detailed compensation for flight cancellation is reduced by 50% if the airline is able to re-route the passenger on a different flight and the new arrival time doesn’t exceed the original arrival time as follows:

  • 2 hours for all flights less than 1,500km
  • 3 hours for all intra-EU flights more than 1,500km
  • 3 hours for all flights between 1,500-3,500km
  • 4 hours for all flights more than 3,500km

There’s an interesting part of the regulation with regards to cancellations. Let’s take this hypothetical situation:

  • You’re flying from Bahrain to New York via Heathrow.
  • The Bahrain to Heathrow leg was on Gulf Air, and that flight landed on time with no issues
  • The Heathrow to New York leg is on American Airlines, and was cancelled.
  • At this point, there are no alternative options and you’re stuck in Heathrow
  • In this case you are entitled to receive a full refund on your ticket, plus a free flight back to Bahrain

These cases are so rare, as airlines would typically just re-route passengers as it’s cheaper for them.

 

 

Non-EU Regulations

Flights that are not subject to EU regulations are a bit of a headache. Jurisdictions, other than the EU, have their own version of passenger protection, but they are no where as strong. In most cases, matters are left to the airlines to determine what is fair compensation in the event of a delay.

As a rule of thumb, if are travelling with a reputable airline, in most cases they will do the right thing, and compensate passengers fairly, largely in line with EU practice. I’ve had my some run-ins with Etihad and Emirates. Legally they could have left me stranded, however they both handled my case with class and were extremely fair.

Non-EU carriers have their own version of “Passenger Rights” that they adhere to. Those documents are so difficult to find. As you can imagine passengers would be so ill informed about their rights in that case, and you can be certain that ground staff won’t know those rights either (at least in detail). Just because you don’t know your rights doesn’t mean that you don’t have any.

In these cases, you need to be resolute in your demands, make constant reference to EU and IATA regulations. My guess is that you’ll have little luck on the compensation side, however refreshments, and at worst accommodation, shall be availed if a delay is bad.

 

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