True or false: the most important myths about your passenger rights investigated
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A lot of words have been written about the rights of airplane passengers. Nevertheless, there’s still a great deal of misunderstandings about those rights in case of a delayed or cancelled flight, a downgrade or denied boarding. To put an end to this ambiguity, we go over and invalidate the most important myths about the European rights of airplane passengers, also known as the EU261/2004.
“It’s not worth it to try and get a compensation for my flight, when I booked a cheap ticket”
As opposed to what many travelers think, the price of your ticket is unrelated to the compensation you can claim from the airline for your flight issue. Whether you paid € 50 or € 500 for your flight, doesn’t affect your right neither the amount of the compensation.
The indemnification that is determined by the European Regulation (EU261) is a fixed compensation for the damages suffered due to a flight issue. That could be a lost hotel stay, but also additional expenses for a rental car, a missed meeting or any activity you couldn’t attend.
The expenses mentioned above can’t be claimed separately from the airline, but are supposed to be covered by the fixed compensation, which depends on your (foreseen) flight distance. An indemnification for a cancelled or delayed flight can vary from €250 (for flights < 1500 km) and €400 ( < 3500km or within the EU) up to €600 (for flights > 3500 km). Moreover, the compensation can be restricted or halved, under specific circumstances.
“When I’m on a business trip, I’m not personally entitled to any indemnification”
Actually, you are! The European Regulation says that the indemnification should be given directly to the actual person that has suffered from the flight issue. So even when you’re traveling on behalf of a company, it’s still you who’s stuck at the airport for hours, calling back-and-forth with client service to get you on another flight and catch your meeting. While your employer can be paying for your flight, you can personally claim a compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight, a downgrade (i.e. from Business to Economy) or denied boarding.
However, some companies have included specific arrangements about these situations in their labor agreement and/or travel policy. That means that it’s possible that you and your employer agreed you owe them (a part of) your compensation in case you should file a claim for an indemnification from the airline. Your employer can never claim the compensation instead of you, but he/she can be entitled to receiving (a part of) it, depending on the specific labor agreement made. Our advice? Make sure you read the small letters of your contract before filing a claim!
“If I get a downgrade from Economy Comfort Class to Economyclass, I’m entitled to a compensation for my trouble”
Unfortunately, no. The European Regulation (EU261) entitles people suffering from a downgrade on their flight to an indemnification from the airline. However, this is only the case when there’s a significant difference between your original and eventual program. For instance, this is the case when you’re downgraded from Business to Economyclass. However, a conversion from Economy Comfort Class to Economy Class is not considered to be a full downgrade and thus, doesn’t give you any right to an indemnification. The same counts for extra leg-space, chosen seats and so on.
“If I missed my flight due to a delayed train, I’m intitled to an indemnification”
Some airlines offer their travelers the possibility of booking both their train as their flight on one and the same ticket. This solution comes in handy when you’re traveling to the airport by train, but it can be very confusing at the very same time. When you arrive at the airport late because of a train delay, you are in fact not entitled to a compensation from the airline. Not even when it makes you miss your flight. So how’s that possible?
The European Regulation that determines the compensation for issues such as flight delay and cancellation, only applies to “passengers who travel with a motorized aircraft with fixed wings” (EU261/2004, art. 3, §4). A delayed train therefore doesn’t lie within the scope of the European Regulation (EU261) and is therefore no acknowledged reason for compensation by the airline.
The responsibility for a missed flight caused by a delayed train and, more importantly, the expenses such a situation brings forth, have been discussed multiple times over the years. When missing your flight is your own responsibility (i.e. when you slept through your alarm), you don’t only loose your right to an indemnification, but also to a cost-free alternative. The ultimate question now is whether a delayed train can be seen as an individual responsibility or not.
The European legislation determines that the contractual transporter (in this case the airline) is responsible for all the transportation that has been agreed upon in the agreement between them and their customer. When you booked a combo-ticket for your train and your airplane with the airline itself, the European legislation determines that it’s the airline’s responsibility to reach your destination (on time).
The actual transporter (in this case the railway authority is only responsible for damage in the aftermath of the events that occurred within the specific part of the transport that this specific transporter has carried out. A railway can therefore not be assumed to be responsible for so-called “consequential damage”, such as missing your connecting flight. Nevertheless, the responsibility of the railway is regularly challenged by authorities such as the Dutch travel organization Rover.
Our advice? If you missed your flight due to a delayed train, it’s best that you call upon the airline that sold you the combo-ticket, to arrange an alternative flight for you. Considering you made an agreement with the airline, it’s their duty to get you on your destination as swiftly as possible.
“If I miss my flight due to traffic, I’m entitled to an indemnification”
Unfortunately, no. While there’s still some uncertainty about the responsibilities of the airline and railway organization in case of a delayed train, the rules for traffic jams are crystal clear. If you decide to go to the airport by car, it’s your own and individual responsibility to reach your destination on time. You might not be the cause of the traffic jam, it’s till your responsibility to make an accurate estimation of your travel time.
“My flight was delayed due to a technical deficiency, which means I don’t stand a chance to get a indemnification”
Aircrafts are complex pieces of machinery and technical difficulties are sometimes inevitable. However, this doesn’t mean that you are definitely not entitled to a compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight. More specifically, your rights depend on the accountability of the airline itself for the technical deficiency that disturbed your itinerary.
Imagine that the airplane you’re traveling with is damaged by the unlucky encounter with a bird. Or even better, a whole swarm of birds! When in that case the afflicted damage causes the airplane to be delayed or cancelled, the airline can’t be held accountable for the technical difficulty that was caused by the impact. In this case, you’re not entitled to a compensation form the airline.
This is also the case for technical deficiencies which are caused by for instance the weather, a manufacturing defect etc. However sometimes, technical deficiencies are caused by a lack of maintenance by the airline herself. Imagine for example that the cabin door can’t be closed or that the safety measures appear not to be working at the departure check. These technical difficulties can be caused by a lack of maintenance and thus the airline is obliged to deliver substantial evidence to prove otherwise. If the airline doesn’t manage to do so, you are in fact entitled to an indemnification just as well, even thought the cause for the flight issue is a technical difficulty.
To sum up: if the airline was able to prevent the technical deficiency in any way, you’ll probably be entitled to a compensation. In any other case, you’re not.
“You’re only entitled to a indemnification, when you’re a European citizen”
Not at all. Travelers with a non-European nationality are entitled to a compensation for their flight issue(s) just as well, as long as they’re traveling within Europe or when they’re traveling from a non-European country to a European destination with a European airline. Your nationality thus changes nothing about your right to a compensation. Air travel outside of Europe or with a non-European carrier are not within the scope of the European Regulation (EU261). Other regulations may however apply to your situation, so don’t hesitate to inform yourself when confronted with a flight problem.
“If I have travel insurance, I’m also protected against the cancellation of my flight”
Not exactly. There’s an important difference between a flight that’s being cancelled by the airline itself and a flight you cancel yourself, for whatever reason. Travel insurance can, in some cases, arrange that you recuperate (some of) the expenses you made for your trip, in case you have to cancel your flight due to unforeseen circumstances. This could apply in case of an accident, the death of a family member or altered (negative) travel advices.
However travel insurance doesn’t protect you from the cancellation of your flight by the airline. Expenses that might have to be made when an airline cancels a flight, are therefore covered by the fixed compensation as determined by the European Regulation (EU261).
Both the recuperation of expenses (additional hotel stays, meals and airport transfer) as the fixed indemnification are European rights that are accessible for each and every passenger*. Travel insurance on the other hand is an additional service that covers the risk of not taking your booked flight (often under specific circumstances).
Some travel insurance companies such as Touring, offer the possibility to call upon specialized organizations such as Happy Flights, in case of a delayed or cancelled flights. In this way, they guarantee their clients optimal service and support in case of flight issues.
* traveling within the EU or towards a EU-country with a European airline.
“Why would I turn to a claim company for help? I should file my claim myself instead.”
At Happy Flights, we like to consider ourselves as an accountant. Just like with accounting, you can choose to take matters into your own hands and file your claim for a compensation yourself. It’s each and every traveler’s right to file a claim themselves at the airline responsible for their delayed or cancelled flight. Just like accounting, filing a compensation claim is a complex and highly administrative process, which is almost never made easier by the efforts and cooperation of the airlines. A thorough knowledge of the European Regulation is often not a frivolous luxury, especially when the validity of the claim is called into question.
To facilitate the process of filing a claim, travelers can choose to part with all the administrative and other burdens, by appealing to a specialized organization such as Happy Flights. Just like an accountant, a certain compensation is associated with this cooperation.
At Happy Flights, we keep a commission of 25% of the total claim, as well as an administrative cost of € 25 per person (both incl. taxes). While this means you are basically giving us a part of your conversation, this cost is nothing compared to the expenses you should have to make if you choose to take your compensation claim in front of a judge. If we need to transfer your claim to our lawyers, we will charge an extra 25%. Unfortunately, this is the case in an increasingly amount of claims.
So why does rumor have it that claim organizations are not to be trusted? Some organizations are in fact less transparent in the costs and benefits of their services. At Happy Flights, we make it our mission to go against such malpractices. Feel free to read the small letters in our general conditions. At Happy Flights, we strive towards just and careless traveling, by a transparent process with minimal administration and maximal coverage of your trouble.
“Even when I’m departing to Belgium from a country outside of Europe, I’m still entitled to an indemnification in case of flight delay or cancellation”
There are two conditions you have to fulfill, when the airport of your departure is outside of Europe. First of all, the (final) destination of your flight has to be in Europe. Second of all, you need to fly with a European airline to be entitled to a compensation for your flight issue. So if you’re traveling from Japan to Belgium with an airline such as KLM, a flight issue might give you the right to a compensation. However, if you’re flying from Turkey to Belgium with Freebird Airlines, you are not.
“If I book a new flight myself after the original one got cancelled, the airline has to pay back all of my additional expenses”
While it seems logical that this statement is true, additional expenses for a new flight can’t simply be recovered from the airline. So why is that? It’s because the airline is legally obliged to offer you a reimbursement of your flight or a cost-free alternative to continue your journey and reach your destination in a fashionable time.
In many cases however, there’s a lot of debate about what “a fashionable time” means exactly. Imagine you have to work again on Monday after your vacation and your Saturday flight is being cancelled. At that point, all you really want is to get home before Monday and avoid missing a day of work. Depending on the reason of the cancellation however, it’s possible that the airline can only offer you an alternative flight on Tuesday or Wednesday.
In that case, it might seem a good idea to go and look for an alternative flight yourself. However, in doing so, you’re implicitly agreeing with the reimbursement of your flight and thus loose your right to a cost-free alternative. You might however still be entitled to an indemnification according to the European Regulation. The expenses that were made to book your new flight can’t be recovered from the airline, but the compensation might just cover the additional cost. The same counts for the expenses of missed hotel nights, car rental, etc.
Want to avoid additional expenses? Then you better urge the airline to give you a better alternative. Airlines often have mutual cooperation agreements, which makes it possible for them to offer you an alternative flight with another airline then themselves. However, airlines aren’t eager to offer these options spontaneously, because the additional expenses would in that case be on their behalf. So be prepared and know your rights as an airline passenger, to make sure you get a worthy alternative for your cancelled flight. Additionally, the expenses for meals, additional hotel stays and airport transfer can be recovered from the airline that postponed or cancelled your flight.
“If I want to file a claim, I need to do it as fast as possible”
It’s not necessary to rush over to our website as soon as you encounter a flight issue during your travel. In Belgium, compensation claims can be made up to one year after the original flight date. This has everything to do with the limitation period for the European Regulation (EU261). Different limitation periods apply in different European countries, varying from 6 to exceptionally 10 years. So don’t worry, you can enjoy your vacation and file your claim after you come back home. On the other hand, the longer you wait, the harder it can get to retrieve the necessary and correct information about the circumstances of your flight. So enjoy your vacation, but don’t put your claim on the never-ending pile of administrative to-do’s.