Our purpose is to assist consumers when making cross-border purchases within the EEA
Air passenger rights have been discussed a lot in the last few years and proved very important during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull, which caused the closure of many airports in Europe. A large portion of the cases ECC-Net deals with concern air passenger rights, and ECC-Iceland has handled many complaints in this genre.
The most important rules about air passenger rights can be found in regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11. February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. This regulation applies throughout the EEA-area. Although most flights leave on time, land on time and are not overbooked it is important to keep in mind that air passengers enjoy certain rights when such discrepancies occur.
THE RIGHT TO ASSISTANCE
Even if a flight is delayed or cancelled due to exceptional circumstances (such as strikes, weather, natural disasters) passengers enjoy certain rights.
If a flight is delayed for a period of:
- 2 hours or more on a 1.500 km long flight or shorter
- 3 hours or more on a 1.500 – 3.500 km long flight
- 4 hours or more on a flight longer than 3.500 km
then the operating air carrier shall offer the passengers meals and refreshments in accordance to the length of the delay, hotel accommodation if needed and transportation between hotel and airport, and the chance to make two phone calls, send e-mail, text- or fax message.
If the delay exceeds 5 hours the passenger is entitled to reimbursement of the original ticket price.
The operating air carrier shall offer the passenger the care and assistance he is entitled to, that is the initiative shall come from the air carrier. If a passenger is not offered assistance he can claim the cost incurred by having to buy meals and refreshments, from the operating air carrier if the cost is not excessive. The right to care and assistance is always in place even if delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances.
In some cases passengers can in addition to the aforementioned assistance claim compensation, when a flight is cancelled or even when a flight is delayed over a period exceeding three hours. The regulation does not explicitly provide for financial compensation in the event of flight delay. However, the European Court of Justice has ruled that passengers who suffer a delay exceeding three hours have right to compensation, unless the air carrier can prove that the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.
The amount of compensation passengers are entitled to is:
- €250 per passenger for flights of 1,500km or less
- €400 per passenger for flights within the EEA of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
- €600 per passenger for all other flights
The entitlement to compensation and the amount varies depending on when you are informed of the cancellation, the arrangements for an alternative flight, and the reason of the cancellation.
The air carrier does not have to pay compensation if a flight is cancelled due to “extraordinary circumstances” (weather conditions, natural disasters, strikes, war, terrorism, air traffic control restrictions etcetera) which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures were taken.
An operating air carrier is generally not exempt from paying compensation when delay or cancellation is caused by technical failures inherent in the operation of airplanes. A technical problem in an aircraft is not regarded as an “extraordinary circumstance” unless the problem "stems from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control".
Furthermore the air carrier is not required to pay compensation if passengers are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled departure. The same applies if passengers are informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or if passengers are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival. If the air carrier can offer rerouting to the final destination within two, three or four hours (depending on the distance of the flight) of the previously scheduled arrival, the compensation may be reduced by 50%.
Irrespective of the right to compensation passengers have the right to assistance and the right to re-route or reimbursement in case of cancellation.
If you believe your rights as an air passenger have been violated please contact your ECC-Centre. The ECC will then assist you by trying mediation or directing you to a competent ADR or an appropriate authority.
ECC-Iceland has published a special leaflet on air passenger rights, see also the ECC-Net´s Air passenger rights report 2011. See also the ECC-net's report: Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Air Passenger Rights Sector.