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?

Arlene

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:

Distance Amount Additional

Less than 1,500km €250 -

More than 1,500km €400 Flights within the EU

1,500km – 3,500km €400 Flights outside the EU

More than 3,500km €600 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.


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

  1. Open Skies to Paris to connect to Edinburgh? She’s lucky they just didn’t tell her she should have flown nonstop on CO and she should be lucky she got $65. That sounds like a standard airline response.

    Anytime you are connecting between two different airlines and miss a connection, it’s always hard to get the airlines to do very much for you, even if both flights are on the same ticket.

    • CF says:

      If both flights are on the same ticket, then the airlines are obligated to get you to your final destination.

  2. D W says:

    When you are flying out of EU on KL or AF but bought ticket from DL as a DL code share on AF/KL metal how would this apply?

    • CF says:

      I believe it’s by operating airline, because that’s the only way this could easily be implemented, but I would be interested to hear what others think.

  3. Daren S says:

    I recently had to look into this for my aunt. Her Delta (but KL ticket) flight to ATL was cancelled, she was put up overnight at LGW and then the replacement flight was subsequently delayed by about three hours. She has completed the online application form and is awaiting a response. She should get 600 Euros which would almost pay for the flight which is a bonus. I don’t think she will be flying with Delta again though!

  4. Christian says:

    Weather is generally considered as a circumstance beyond the carrier’s control and therefore weather-related cancellations do not entitle to a refund. This is the reason why many airlines like to quote adverse weather as a reason for the cancellation.

    I don’t think anyone considers the volcano as not being a force majeur, however under this EU ruling airlines still have to provide assistance (i.e. food and accommodation), but no compensation.

    Technical defects however are no longer considered beyond the carrier’s control following several court rulings.

    And to be more precise, “soon” (in “soon after the original time”) is within 2 hours (or 4 for longer distances) of the original time.

    And finally, the compensation is indeed flat, i.e. it does not matter at all how much one paid for the ticket, it’s always 250 EUR or more.

  5. airjunkie says:

    Arlene does not specify if her delay was within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical or crew delay. If it was due to ATC or weather, then regardless of EU law, she’s lucky, vis-a-vis US carriers, to be getting $65 voucher.

    Best piece of advice, Arlene, expect delays on international flights, plan your schedule and budget accordingly, have a backup plan, & call Cranky when you’re stuck.

  6. Arlene says:

    The cause of our delay of 3 hours and 21 minutes was not weather related. We were told it was mechanical problems. Also Open Skies only flies from Newark or Washington to Paris-Orly, therefore we could not book our whole trip on Open Skies and had to rely on a separate airline to get us to Edinburgh. Since Open Skies is an EU based airline we do come under EU Regulation 261/2004. I have checked other blogs, and there seems to be general confusion regarding distance traveled/length of delay/reason for the delay/and the airlines financial responsibility so I am continuing to persue some redress from Open Skies. I will keep you informed as to my progress.

    • CF says:

      I’d be curious to know which other blogs think that you’re due additional compensation, because it seems pretty clear to me. I’m interested in seeing what I’m missing.

  7. fred says:

    Your flight was more than 3000 km, so it falls under the (c) category in Article 6, so they don’t owe you anything for their flight being delayed, either. (I find the wikipedia article much easier to read and understand
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_261/2004 )

    Also, last December I was flying from the US to Italy via Paris CDG, and all RJ flights all day to Europe were canceled due to the snowstorm. After waiting for flights for 13 hours before the last flight of the day was canceled at 9pm, they did get me a hotel for the night (after waiting 2 hours in line) but the airport hotel was full so I got one that was ~40 km away. There was a shuttle bus, but it stopped running at 10 pm or so. And there were no taxis out either, so I ended up spending the night in terminal E and taking the train the next day.
    I did end up writing to Delta (it was a DL flight from America and a DL ticket), and i did get 2500 ‘Customer relations bonus’ SkyMiles and a letter of apology from Air France, but I technically did get all the assistance that I was entitled to.
    These regulations are good, but not perfect (what is?), so watch out!

  8. Cranky, I believe your response may not be correct. On 15 June on MSNBC.COM Travel columnist Chistopher Elllliott wrote: “In other words, as long as you’re headed to Europe, you have EU 261 on your side.

    So what does the rule entitle you to? Article 7 addresses that question. For delays, you might get paid anywhere between 250 to 600 Euros.”

    Additionally, he writes , airlines “…don’t want you to know EU 261 applies to flights outside of Europe, or what you’re entitled to if your flight is delayed or canceled.”

    He also states that EU 261 forces airlines to keep their passengers posted on their Rights. Reference Article 1, Para 20.

    You can contact Mr. Elliott at celliott@ngs.org for more info or to ask for the full article.

    Finally, as I am a strong consumer advocate, I would press the airline to comply fully with EU 261 and if they don’t, contact the EU agency to help you. It may take time, but in the end you just might educate your airline how they need to follow the law regarding travelers Rights,and get a just reimbursement as well.

    • CF says:

      Chris Elliott’s article is wrong.

      For those who want to follow along, here’s his full piece:
      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37661370/

      You should also have the full text of the regulation ready so you can see the problem:
      http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2004:046:0001:0007:en:PDF

      1) Article 7 does not apply to delays. It only applies to Denied Boarding (Article 4, Section 3) and Cancellation (Article 5, Section 1(c)).

      2) He is incorrect that “as long as you’re headed to Europe, you have EU 261 on your side.” In fact, he contradicts himself in the very next paragraph. As paragraph 6 states:

      “The protection accorded to passengers departing from an airport located in a Member State should be extended to those leaving an airport located in a third country for one situated in a Member State, when a Community carrier operates the flight.”

      So you are only protected if you’re heading to Europe on a European airline. Arlene would be protected by the regulation since she was on a European airline going into Europe, but there is no compensation for delays under the regulation so it’s a moot point.

    • fred says:

      The airline is complying with EU 261: Article 6 applies since the flight was delayed (not canceled), and it makes no reference to Article 7, which states “When reference is made to this article…”, so no compensation is involved.
      Also, the flight falls under category (c) of Article 6, since any transatlantic flight would be more than 3500 km, so a delay of 4 hours or more would require that the airline give passengers food and such in Article 9.

      I’m not saying that this is fair or unfair (it’s definitely better than nothing), but read the regulation fully if you believe that the airline is wrong.

  9. iahphx says:

    OK, so let’s say I’m flying nonstop USA-EU on a USA airline. Before departure, USA airline realizes there’s a mechanical problem with the aircraft and cancels the flight. They graciously re-route me on another airline that gets me to my destination 2 1/2 hours late. I get nothing because I’m on a USA airline OUTSIDE of the EU. Right?

    Same scenario, but now I’m flying GERMAN airline. I collect 600 Euros (thanks guys!) because I’m on an EU airline. Correct?

    Reverse directions: now I’m flying EU-USA. Same mechanical problem, same cancellation, with a re-routing getting me to the USA 2 1/2 hours late. This time, it doesn’t matter whether I’m flying USA or GERMAN airlines. I get my 600 euros from either, right?

    This is, of course, a very poorly crafted law.

    • Oliver says:

      I think the asymmetry is in the regulations because the EU has no jurisdiction over non-EU carriers outside the EU.

      • JamesK says:

        You’re absolutely right. US carriers fought hard against being included on the departing-from-the-EU flights but ultimately lost.

        Note that generally, the consumer protections of the Montreal Convention of 1999 (MC99) would apply, as long as the endpoints of the ticket are within signatory countries (which includes the US and most if not all of the EU).

  10. I hope Mr. Elliott of MSNBC will clarify the situation from his perspective ASAP. I think this is a VERY healthy discussion that may be of great assistance to travlers.

  11. Arlene says:

    It has been intresting reading this blog. Seems like everyone has a different interpretation of the EU Regulation. I have now been in contact with EUClaim, a European company which works on a contingency basis to settle claims for cancelled and delayed flights. They only take your case if they think you have a legitimate claim, and after getting all my details, they have agreed to persue the claim for their standard fee of 27% of the amount collected. At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain for myself and my three traveling companions. I’ll keep you posted.

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