What Protections Do European Union Regulations Offer? (Ask Cranky)

For this Ask Cranky, I’m heading to the comments section. That’s right, this comment was posted a couple weeks ago and I thought it was worth bring it to the forefront here. Many know that there are strong European passenger protections, but not many know exactly what they do. So, let’s dig in.

Four of us travelled from Newark to Paris on Open Skies Airlines this month. The flight was delayed from 6.40 p.m. to about 11 p.m. and consequently we missed our next flight from Paris to Edinburgh on Easy Jet and had to purchase new tickets. Open Skies is offering us each $65 vouchers on future flight with them.
Since we do not routinely fly transatlantic, I have told them that there offer is not sufficient for our inconvenience and added expenses. Under the new EU Regulation 261/2004 are we entitled to compensation?


First, to answer the immediate question here. No, sorry Arlene, but you aren’t technically entitled to any compensation. You would have had to buy two separate tickets since Open Skies and easyJet wouldn’t have an agreement in place. That can save a lot of money, but it also relieves the other Ask Crankyairline from having to give you any compensation due to a missed connection. In addition, EU Regulation 261/2004 (pdf) does not offer compensation for delays. But it does offer a lot, and some of it makes very little sense. So let’s look at it.

This rule applies if you’re bumped, canceled, or delayed. It only applies to passengers departing from a European Union member state or flying to an EU state on an EU-based airline if the originating country doesn’t already have protections in place. It applies to anyone holding a confirmed reservation (including frequent flyer tickets) who arrives at the airport with adequate time and does everything as required to board the flight.

If an airline has an oversold flight and can’t find enough volunteers, it has to involuntarily bump passengers and there are specific compensation rules. That same compensation applies if a flight is simply canceled. In these cases, the passenger is entitled to the following:




Less than 1,500km


More than 1,500km


Flights within the EU

1,500km – 3,500km


Flights outside the EU

More than 3,500km


Flights outside the EU

There are a couple exceptions here. For example, if another flight can be found that gets the passenger to the destination soon after the original time, then compensation is reduced or eliminated depending on the instance. There is also an interesting little stipulation that says;

An operating carrier shall not be obliged to pay compensation . . . if it can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

This doesn’t apply for simple weather cancellations. In fact, I believe that some are even saying this doesn’t apply to the volcano earlier this year. If that’s the case, then this statement is apparently meaningless.

Now, that compensation amount is just flat compensation regardless of what the passenger decides to do with the flight. If the passenger doesn’t want to travel, he is entitled to a refund. If the passenger can’t get another flight for awhile, he’s entitled to food and hotel as appropriate. That last piece also applies to delays.

The delay rule itself says that passengers are entitled to food, hotel, etc regardless of the reason for delay if the delay is anywhere from 2 to 4 hours using the same distance breakdown as shown in the compensation table above. If the delay passes five hours, then the customer can walk away and get a full refund.

And that’s the gist of the rule. My only problem is that these things apply to flights even if the problems are outside the airline’s control. It makes little sense to me that if a flight is canceled because there’s a storm over the airport, that airlines should have to shell out hundreds of euros. That’s the sort of incentive that encourages airlines to fly unsafely. But this is the rule, so now you now what applies to your flights.

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