NEW LEGISLATION IN FORCE with effect from 17th February 2005 relating to air passenger delays and overbooking
The European Union has agreed a new law - not yet in force - which will give passengers on flights more rights in respect of delays. The new rules for compensation are as follows:
1. Delayed flights:
The European Parliament has voted to increase the levels of statutory compensation paid to passengers who have been bumped from overbooked flights. This scheme is also extended to cover charter flights booked as part of a package holiday. The scheme has bitterly been opposed by budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair, however the EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio stated that the new regulations would also oblige airlines to call for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for advantages and only if insufficient volunteers came forward would they be allowed to deny passengers boarding against their will.
As well as financial compensation, passengers who are bumped will continue to have the choice of a refund of the cost of their ticket or an alternative flight, together with meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation if the alternative cannot be arranged until the following day. These provisions are included in the current EU Denied Boarding Compensation Scheme which date from 1991. The compensation scheme is extended to cover all charter flights including those sold as part of a package holiday.
Passengers of EU carriers returning to the EU from a third country, if that country has no compensation scheme of it's own in place, are also covered. Under the terms of the 1991 regulations airlines were not obliged to compensate passengers bumped from flights departing from non-EU countries.
Furthermore the new levels of compensation will apply to cancelled flights by airlines or tour operators on their own responsibility unless the passenger is offered an alternative leaving at a time very close to that of their original flight, or has been informed of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to their intended departure.
There will be no statutory compensation for passengers whose flights have been delayed but airlines will be obliged to offer meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation where applicable together with a refund, if the delay lasts for at least 5 hours.
The new rules will be phased in and will be fully applied by 2005.
(a) after a delay of 2 hours on a flight up to 1,500 kms; 3 hours on a flight of 1,500 - 3,500 kms; 4 hours on flights longer than 3,500 kms - passengers will be entitled to free food, drink, phonecalls and emails
(b) after a delay of 5 hours passengers will receive a full refund if they decide not to use the flight
(c) if a flight is delayed overnight passengers are entitled to free hotel accommodation
2. Cancelled flights
(a) If a flight is cancelled passengers will be entitled to a full refund
(b) Except in extraordinary circumstances airlines must inform passengers of cancellations more than 2 weeks before departure. Compensation for failing to do so is paid on top of the refund which is as follows:
(All compensation quoted in Euros - see below £ sterling equivalent)
For cancelled flights and/or denied boarding:
Shorthaul under 930 miles ... ...............£172.00
Mid-range under 2,175 miles .............. £275.00
Long-haul over 2,175 miles ................. £412.00
It would appear that unlike the rules concerning delays, airlines will be able to avoid paying compensation for cancellations if they are due to exceptional circumstances which could not be avoided by them taking reasonable action - this could include bad weather and strikes by Air Traffic Control, Political instability or Terrorists threats. However it does NOT include technical problems on aircraft -
FIVE STEPS TO CLAIMING COMPENSATION for overbooking or flight delays
1. Prior to travel, obtain Air Passenger Rights Leaflet available on http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/transport/air/rights/index-en.htm.
2. Request that the airline representative give you written details of your rights explaining how to obtain compensation. The regulations require that the airline give this information to all passengers.
3. Set out your claim in writing.
4. If your claim for compensation is rejected then contact the Air Transport Users Council in writing or by telephone at:
45-59 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6TE Telephone No. 0207 240 6061
5. The Air Transport Users Council will be able to assist you on your behalf in order to try to negotiate an agreement between yourself and the airline. If there is no agreement reached and the airline refuses to pay you compensation then the matter will be placed in the hands of the Civil Aviation Authority who have the power to prosecute an airline. It can impose a penalty of £5,000 per case for failure to comply with the legislation.
6. The airline also has to reimburse you your air fare within 7-days if you have chosen not to fly because of the cancellation or the delay. You can have vouchers rather than money but only if you agree to this.
These new rules cover all charter flights, scheduled flights and low cost budget airlines. The criteria for claiming compensation is that the flight must be departing from an EU airport or flying into the EU on an EU airline.
Passengers who are delayed or have their flight cancelled are entitled to complimentary refreshments. On a short-haul flight if the delay is more than 2 hours, on a mid-range flight 3 hours or more and on a long-haul flight 4 hours or more. If the delay is excessive then passengers are also entitled to overnight accommodation, including a transfer to the hotel free of charge, or the airline must find alternative transport for the passengers to reach their final destination.
In the case of a flight being overbooked the airline have to ask for volunteers to give up their seat first. Any passenger who agrees to this can opt for cash benefits as well as the option of either a refund of their ticket with a free flight back to their point of departure or a later flight to their destination but they are not entitled to the additional compensation as specified above. However if a passenger is "bumped" against their will they are entitled to the compensation as specified above.
It is highly likely that in the case of delay airlines will try and avoid liability as there is within the regulations a get-out clause which allows the airline to avoid compensating passengers where the reason for the delay or cancellation is outside of the airline's control. For example adverse weather conditions, industrial action by airline staff or simply Air Traffic Control delays or overloads are all examples where compensation would not apply.
Airlines also will not have to compensate the passengers if they give 14-days notice or more regarding a cancellation or they provide a re-routed flight. So whilst these regulations give passengers enhanced rights that they previously did not have it is not compensation for every circumstance. Passengers should therefore collect all the relevant information together before considering whether it is appropriate to make a claim.
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