Here’s how to claim compensation if your flight is cancelled
9 October 2008: Each year several million air passengers are the victims of overbooking, lengthy delays and sudden cancellation of flights. Here is some helpful advice on what to do if it happens to you.
Can I claim compensation if my flight is cancelled?
Yes but the following EU rules only apply if you are travelling from an EU airport, all airlines – whether European or not – are subject to these rules.
People flying into the European Union from overseas will also be covered by these new rules, as long as they are travelling on a European airline.
If your flight is cancelled or you are offered a new departure with a different flight number you may also be eligible for financial compensation. There is a loophole however. Airlines don't have to compensate passengers if the cancellation is due to "extraordinary circumstances", which could include bad weather, strikes or air-traffic control delays that is, anything that is beyond the control of the airline.
However, if the airline has given passengers at least two week's notice or has provided an alternative flight, close to the time of the original, it does not have to compensate those customers.
How much compensation will I receive?
If the flight is cancelled through the fault of the airline the compensation is awarded on a sliding scale, depending on how far you are flying and on how long your flight is delayed. The rates are laid out on the Air Transport Users Council website at www.auc.org.uk)
What if I am prevented from boarding the plane because it is overbooked?
Overbooking is fairly common on scheduled airlines. It happens because the airlines predict that a certain number of passengers won’t show up. If they miscalculated the flight will be oversubscribed and a few unlucky passengers will not be able to board.
Check-in staff may try to pre-empt this problem by asking passengers whether they're willing to be switched to a later flight, usually making some kind of offer and it is up to you whether or not to accept it.
However if you are prevented from flying against your will you are entitled to claim the same level of compensation as for cancellations above.
What if I bought a cheaper ticket?
If you bought your ticket through a frequent flyer programme or a discounted deal, you should still be covered by these rules.
What if my flight is delayed?
When a flight is delayed, the airline may be obliged to supply meals and refreshments, along with accommodation if an overnight stay is required.
Whether you qualify will depend on the length of the flight and the delay. For example, for flights of 1,500km or less where there is a delay of more than two hours, a passenger should be given meals and refreshments, along with two free telephone calls, e-mails, telexes or faxes.
If the delay is for five hours or more, passengers are also entitled to a refund of their ticket with a free flight back to your initial point of departure if this is relevant.
How do I make a claim?
To make a claim, write to the airline within 7 days of the original departure date with your flight details, cause of complaint and compensation due. Refunds must be paid within seven days, and in the event of cancellation passengers have to contact the airline for compensation. If you are denied boarding you are supposed to be given compensation immediately.
What happens if the airline refuses to pay out?
The airlines face fines of up to £5,000 a passenger for failing to comply with the EU regulations. If they refuse to pay compensation you have a right of appeal to the Air Transport Users Council (www.auc.org.uk).
Remember that airlines do not have to compensate passengers if they have given at least two weeks notice of cancellation or provided passengers with another flight at the time of the original.
This article was written by solicitors from Simpson Millar LLP. For further legal advice call us on 0808 129 3319 or visit www.simpsonmillar.co.uk