15:41 17 February 2013
Two court cases at the end of January have helped to clarify the rights of passengers regarding flight delays, welfare and compensation under the EU261 rules.
But, if your flight was delayed, would you know what you were entitled to and how claim it? And do you even know what the EU261 rules are?
If not, read our handy guide below.
Make sure you know your rights if your flight is delayed
“What were the recent cases and what do they mean for me?”
On January 28, a UK judge ruled that Jeff and Joyce Halsell were entitled to €800 in compensation and legal costs after their flight from Tenerife to the East Midlands was delayed as a result of a mechanical fault. Previously the Halsells’ airline, Thomas Cook, had claimed that the delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ beyond its control and turned down the claim. However, the judge clarified that the technical fault did fall into this category and Thomas Cook had to pay out.
A few days later on January 31, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Denise McDonagh was indeed entitled to €1,130 in compensation to cover her welfare expenses (food, refreshments and accommodation) when her flight with Ryanair was cancelled as a result of the 2010 ash cloud. This was a test case around whether airlines have to pay ‘reasonable costs’ to cover passengers’ welfare even if the cause of the delay is ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as the ash cloud.
Both cases, along with a judgement in October 2012, help to clarify the rights of travellers when their flight is delayed or cancelled – and show how important it is for you to know your rights as a passenger should anything go wrong.
“My flight is delayed – does my airline have to look after me?”
If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight is delayed by more than two hours, your airline may have to offer you a welfare package including food, drinks, two phone calls and, if your flight delay is overnight, accommodation plus transport to and from where you are staying.
When your airline is obliged to offer you this welfare package will depend on the distance you are travelling in kilometres. The table below outlines your rights:
Length of delay before you are entitled to assistance
|0 – 1,500km (eg Manchester to Frankfurt)||More than two hours|
|1,500 – 3,500km (eg Newcastle to Majorca)||More than three hours|
|3,500km + (eg London to Delhi)||More than four hours|
These rights are set out in the EU261 rules.
If your airline does not offer to provide the welfare package itself – for example, in the form of meal vouchers or by booking accommodation for you – talk to a representative at the airport to find out what they consider as ‘reasonable costs’ and get an agreement that you can sort out your own welfare. If you do sort out your own accommodation or buy meals, keep all of your receipts to make claiming back any costs you have incurred as easy as possible.
“Can I also claim compensation for a delayed flight?”
If you are travelling from a European airport or with an EU airline and your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late, you may be entitled to financial compensation under the EU261 rules of up to €600.
Instances where you won’t be entitled to compensation will be when the flight delay is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
“What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?”
‘Extraordinary circumstances’ are those that are deemed to be outside the airline’s control and which, even if the airline had taken reasonable measures, would have delayed the flight. They include extreme weather such as snow, acts of nature such as the volcanic ash cloud in 2010, and strikes.
The case on January 28 clarified that technical faults with an aircraft did not necessarily count as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and passengers can push for clarification as to whether the fault that caused their delay was within the airline’s control.
It is important to remember, however, that even if a long delay is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, your airline must look after you and offer a welfare package.
“How much compensation can I claim?”
As with welfare packages, the compensation you are entitled to is determined by the length of your flight and how long your delay is. The table below outlines the different levels of compensation you can claim following a flight delay.
|Length of flight||Delay to destination||Compensation due|
|Up to 1500km||More than 3 hours||£250.00|
|1500km to 3500km||More than 3 hours||£400.00|
|More than 3500km||More than 3 hours but less than 4 hours||£300.00|
|More than 3500km||More than 4 hours||£600.00|
“How do I claim this compensation?”
The first step you should take if you want to claim compensation is to talk to your airline and find out what caused the delay. Make a note of all of the details so you can be clear on the facts at a later date, and keep your tickets as well as any relevant receipts.
When you come to claim the compensation, go to your airline’s website and find out the best way to communicate with it about the compensation. British Airways, for example, has an online form for customers to fill in but also provides the option of a postal address for letters.
If you are communicating by post, the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) site has a downloadable letter template to make the process as simple as possible as well as a handy checklist and answers to some common questions.
“Should I use a claims company to help?”
It can be tempting to use a claims company to help you receive compensation. But, as with third parties offering to help with PPI claims, these companies charge a fee for their services so avoid them.
As the claims process is straightforward, why part with any of the sum you are due? And, should you have any problems, all the help you need can be found on the CAA’s passenger portal.
“I’ve previously made a claim for compensation/welfare but haven’t received anything – what should I do?”
The two cases in January, along with a ruling in October 2012, clarify your rights to compensation. So, if your airline has refused to pay out when the cause of the delay was not ‘extraordinary circumstances’, you could contact them again stating that in the case of TUI v CAA, you’d like to pursue your claim.
If you’d like to pursue an old claim for the reimbursement of welfare costs – for example during the ash cloud – again you could contact your airline stating that in light of the McDonagh v Ryanair case, you would like to claim your expenses back. It is important to remember, however, that to pursue your claim you will need copies of your original letters and/or receipts.
“What are my rights if my delayed flight is with a non-EU airline?”
As the EU261 rules only protect passengers travelling with an EU airline or out of an EU airport, you won’t have exactly the same rights. Instead, check what the policy is with the airline you are travelling with.
TravelSupermarket’s top tips
• Check your rights while you are on the move by downloading the European Commission’s app ‘Your Passenger Rights’.
• In the event of any delay or cancellation, talk to your airline for guidance on why you are delayed and how to claim your welfare package – don’t spend anything yourself that you expect to get back without clarifying it with your airline.
• To make a successful claim, keep all relevant receipts as well as your tickets, and write down as many details as possible at the time of your delay so you don’t forget any key facts.
• Always take out a travel insurance policy which includes protection for travel delays to cover you for any extra costs you may incur – such as not being able to turn up to your booked accommodation.
For more advice on delayed flights and to find out your rights if your flight is cancelled, read our article ‘Delayed or cancelled flight? Know your rights!’
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