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Global Economy

What rights do air travelers have

The EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation applies to the vast majority of flights that are to be departed from an airport in an EU country. This gives travelers far-reaching claims against the airlines – namely when the flight is canceled at short notice, is overbooked or arrives at its destination at least three hours late. In these cases, each passenger booked on the flight can request a flat-rate compensation payment of 250, 400 or even 600 euros.

Eligibility for compensation payment by EU directive

How much there is in individual cases depends on the length of the planned flight route. In addition, the tickets will of course remain valid. So if you take a replacement flight in the event of a cancellation, you don't have to pay for it "again", the compensation payment is "on top of it". If the alternative flight is offered immediately and it arrives at the destination a maximum of two hours later (for short routes) and a maximum of four hours later for long routes, the airlines can reduce the compensation payments mentioned by 50 percent.

The airlines do not have to pay at all if a flight cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances that “could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. This is the case, for example, with unforeseeable natural events. But not in circumstances for which the airline is responsible, such as a lack of staff on the plane or at check-in. If the passenger misses their flight through their own fault, for example because they were late at the airport, the airline does not have to pay.

Strike is usually not "force majeure"

In practice, airlines very often claim that they could not have avoided the specific flight cancellation and therefore did not have to pay. In many cases, however, this is not the case for strikes: the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in 2021 that there can also be a right to compensation in the event of a strike. At least when it is your own staff that is on strike and the strike is within the legal framework. Because in these cases, the airline can very well exert influence and, as a rule, prepare for the strike.

It is different at best when "foreign personnel" go on strike, such as the air traffic controllers. Anyone whose journey is now being affected by the consequences of the labor dispute at Lufthansa should not only have the airline confirm the delay or flight cancellation, but also that the strike was the reason for it. If Lufthansa does not then take action and offer compensation, those affected should actively request compensation and keep the receipts in the event of additional costs.

It is also recommended to find out about alternative transport options. If domestic flights are canceled due to a strike, it may be worth switching to the train as a means of transport. Again, all proof of purchase should be kept and submitted to the airline for reimbursement as soon as possible.

Assistance in case of delayed departure

If the departure is significantly delayed, the airlines are always obliged to support their passengers while they are waiting. Passengers are entitled to two free telephone calls and free meals and refreshments "in proportion to the waiting time".

Especially when the temperatures are hot, you can ask for free drinks. If the delay necessitates an overnight stay, the airline must also cover the cost of a hotel and transport to and from the airport when the plane finally leaves.

There are also claims against tour operators

Many leisure travelers do not book their flights separately with the airline, but as part of an overall package with a tour operator. In these cases, flight cancellations and significant delays represent travel defects. A claim for a reduction in the total travel price may then exist. The prerequisite is that the passenger reports the defect (i.e. the delay) and gives the opportunity to remedy it. This is unlikely to be the case with delayed planes. Depending on what you want to achieve, package holidaymakers can choose who they want to take action against: the tour operator or the airline. Of course they can't collect twice.

In order to be able to effectively enforce the rights mentioned, it is generally advisable to secure evidence at an early stage. Because airlines are not always particularly cooperative when it comes to compensating their passengers. It is therefore advisable to document the delay or cancellation, to obtain confirmation from the airline if necessary, or to exchange contact details with fellow travelers in order to be able to have the more detailed circumstances attested. In recent years, several providers have developed a business model to help enforce these legal claims against appropriate payment.

Lost luggage must be replaced

Of course, one of the obligations of the tour operator or the airline is the punctual and safe transport of luggage. If a piece of luggage does not arrive at the destination at all or is significantly delayed or is damaged during the flight, this usually justifies a claim against the airline or tour operator. In the case of the package tour, one speaks again of a lack of travel. The total travel price can then be reduced accordingly for the time that travelers spend at their destination without a suitcase.

The amount of the reduction depends on the circumstances of the individual case. It is similar with individual flights, here the airline is liable. If a suitcase does not arrive, travelers can always provide themselves with the essentials (clothing, hygiene items) on site and then charge for the costs. Travelers can also request compensation if a suitcase or its contents are damaged. The current value is replaced, i.e. what the suitcase or its contents "is still worth". If the suitcase has disappeared completely, this is treated in the same way. However, there is a maximum limit for such compensation. According to the so-called Montreal Agreement, this is currently around 1400 euros per person.

Fast reaction is important

When it comes to luggage, it is particularly important to report damage and loss quickly, preferably directly on site. The baggage sticker on the boarding pass serves as proof that baggage has been checked in. If there is a dispute about the value of suitcases or clothing, it is an advantage to keep receipts.

Of course, it is unrealistic to have the receipts for all the items of clothing or equipment you brought with you – but there may still be evidence of particularly expensive or newly purchased items. In the event of damage, a damage report must be submitted after seven days at the latest, and the loss of a piece of luggage must be reported after 21 days at the latest. So you shouldn't wait too long.

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