Flight cancelled or delayed? New 2005 rules on compensation and assistance are good news for passengers
Many people have experienced the frustration and inconvenience caused when a flight is delayed, cancelled, or through overbooking, they have been denied a seat. To combat this, on 17 February 2005, the EU brought into force Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 (OJ L046, 17/2/2004, 1) which establishes a directly effective non-derogable set of rules providing compensation, assistance and re-imbursement to passengers where these circumstances occur. The new regime represents a significant step forward for passenger protection, superseding the previous, more limited protection under Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 (OJ L038, 8/2/1991, 5) and improving upon the Montreal Convention 1999.
Which flights are covered?
The new Regulation covers passengers on flights departing from airports within the EU or arriving in the EU from elsewhere if the air carrier is a community carrier, unless the passenger received assistance, benefits or compensation before departure. The passenger must have a confirmed reservation and have presented himself at check-in (unless the flight is cancelled). While those on frequent flyer tickets are covered, those travelling free of charge or on deals unavailable to the public are not. Package holidays are not covered unless the flight is cancelled.
Type of flight
Whether it is cancellation, delay or overbooking, the extent of a passenger’s rights depends upon the category the flight falls into. All flights of 1,500km or less are category (a). Category (b) covers all flights inside the EU of more than 1,500km and all other flights between 1,500km and 3,000km. All flights not falling within (a) or (b), come within category (c).
Denied boarding due to overbooking
The new rules require that where a carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding to some of its passengers, it first has to call for volunteers willing to surrender their reservations. Anyone willing to do so may exchange their reservation for whatever benefits they can agree with the carrier, on top of the assistance set out below.
Should insufficient volunteers come forward, the carrier may begin refusing to board some passengers. Those unfortunate enough to be ‘bumped off’ a flight involuntarily become entitled to:
Those who hoped to be on a short flight (category (a) flights) get €250 (£180), those wanting to go a bit further (category (b) flights) get €400 (£285), while those in category (c) get €600 (£430). However, these amounts are halved if the carrier is able to fly the passenger to his final destination within two hours (category (a)), three hours (category (b)) or four hours (category (c)) of the scheduled arrival time.
(2) Right to reimbursement or re-routing
Passengers must be offered the choice between: (i) reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket for any part of the journey not made or which no longer serves any purpose, and if relevant, a flight to their starting point at the earliest opportunity; or (ii) re-routing to the final destination at the earliest opportunity, or at a later date at the passenger’s convenience (subject to availability).
(3) Right to assistance/care
Those denied boarding (whether voluntarily or not) are entitled to certain types of free assistance, depending on what is reasonable and necessary. While waiting, passengers are entitled to reasonable meals and refreshments and, where an overnight stay becomes necessary, hotel accommodation with any necessary transportation to and from the hotel. Passengers also get two free telephone calls, emails or similar electronic communication.