If you’ve ever been subject to flight delays, and lets face it, who hasn’t, you know the frustration that comes with having your plans turned upside down. There must be someone responsible, right? Surely there must be some chance of a refund? How do you go about getting compensated? Is that customer service going to take care of you, or will you be given the run-around?
If you are travelling within Europe, or in some circumstances, outside Europe, there is good news for you as a consumer. EC Regulation 261 was put in place to specifically protect the rights of passengers against unreasonable delays caused by air carriers. If the cause of the delay was outside the control of the carrier, such as severe weather, then there is no recourse. However, if the airline cannot provide proof that the delay was out of their control, they have to pay. And the best news: the burden of proof is on the airline for most of this, so finally the consumer has a voice, and is protected!
So let’s take a look at the regulations and see if you are eligible for compensation.
Who can Claim?
Even though this is a European law, you don’t need to be a European citizen to benefit. The criteria is simple, and depends on the source, destination and the nationality of the carrier:
- Departing from an EU airport and operated by any airline; or
- Arriving at an EU airport and operated by an EU airline
Compensation of up to €600 may be available for flights delayed more than 3 hours. The delay is measured against the scheduled arrival time at your final destination, even if there are multiple connecting flights involved, provided that all the flight segments are purchased on the same itinerary. This is particularly significant if a delay causes you to miss a connection.
If your delay was long enough to qualify, next we need to consider the cause of the delay. Firstly, the regulations do not apply for “extraordinary circumstances, which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. This means that causes due to political unrest, extreme weather, security risks, strikes, and unexpected safety issues that could not have been avoided, are excluded from potential claims.
This leaves “everything else” as a potential claim area. In summary, if the airline delayed the flight for reasons that were not exceptional, there is the potential to make a claim. This would include things like operational delays, staffing, and even some delays due to mechanical issues – more about that later.
The law specifies how much must be paid out for a valid claim, and it is dependent on the journey distance in the same way that you qualify for the delay:
- €250 for all flights of 1,500 km or less
- €400 for flights between EU destinations greater than 1,500km, and for all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500 km
- €600 for all flights of a distance greater than 3,500 km
This makes the compensation process very straightforward – there is no negotiation required, nor is there an arbitrary award from a judge. If the claim is valid, then the amount payable is very clear.
In addition, the airline is required to take care of you, including providing refreshments, food, accommodation and alternative transportation where appropriate – this is in addition to their mandated compensation.
Can The Airlines Refuse To Pay?
The regulations are quite specific on what make a valid claim, however airlines do put up a pretty good fight. Naturally they are not fans of this legislation, especially budget carriers, where the amount payable in compensation often exceeds the amount that the passenger has paid for the flight.
To that end, there have been many battles over some of the definitions of “extraordinary circumstances” that the courts have had to rule on. Much of this has centered around mechanical issues, and the courts have fairly consistently ruled in favor of the passenger in these cases, so general mechanical issues are not considered an extraordinary circumstance – however operators have found a loophole related to mechanical loophole “beyond their actual control”, such as hidden defects in a mechanical part.
More worrying was a ruling in 2015 where a pilot became unexpectedly ill before a flight, and instead of focusing on the measures the carrier could have taken to find another pilot, it was instead judged an “extraordinary circumstance” because there was nothing the airline could have done to prevent the pilot from getting sick. Not a good precedent.
Basically, if there is any way a carrier can wriggle out of a claim, you can bet they will try. Despite that, the regulations do state that the burden of proof is on the airline, which is why so many of these claims actually end up being decided in courts after the airline initially declines the claim.
How Do I Make A Claim?
Ordinarily, the passenger is expected to file a claim with the airline involved; however this sounds easier than it actually is. Firstly, the claims procedure is never found front-and-center of the carrier’s website, which can make it difficult to navigate, especially for foreign carriers. Secondly, there is nothing in the regulations that says that the airlines have to make it easy, and it’s not in their interests to do so either. This means that you then become the subject of the legendary customer service of the budget air carriers, which can be a frustrating experience.
Another, more popular option that trying to navigate the process yourself, is to get the help of an expert. Claims processing specialists such as refund.me operate on a contingency basis for filing the claim on your behalf, meaning there is no cost for filing the claim. They take care of the process, including dealing with the carrier, and taking them to court if they won’t pay (with an impressive 98% success rate in court). If they are successful, they take a 29,75% commission on the compensation (= 25% success fee plus VAT), and you get the rest.
This is a pretty good approach, because everyone has the same goal – to get paid. If they don’t succeed in making the airline pay, they don’t get paid.
Considering the time, effort and frustration involved in dealing with the customer service and legal departments of the airlines, as well as the potential costs of hiring a lawyer, especially in a foreign jurisdiction, using a claims processing company is a smart move. Not only will it save you time and money, but also everyone has the same goal – to get paid. If they don’t succeed in making the airline pay, they don’t get a penny. What’s not to like about that!