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Compensation for Flight cancellation or delay

For most people flying isn't an everyday activity. Usually flights are booked weeks if not months ahead. Many are for holidays and there is a sense of anticipation and excitement about getting on a flight, getting to your destination and enjoying a well deserved break.

But what if things go wrong? A delay can impact upon connecting flights or worse still your flight is overbooked or cancelled altogether causing disruption to your plans and loss of enjoyment. You might even be left stranded either at home, an intermediate airport or at your destination.

According to a recent survey by Which? some 30% of us have suffered from a delayed or cancelled flight. Can you imagine if 30% of us were run down due to a road traffic accident?

Everyone would know someone who had suffered and was making a claim. So why don't we claim the compensation to which we are entitled when we are massively inconvenienced through no fault of our own due to flight disruption? Perhaps the answer is due to consumer ignorance. Maybe also due to airlines seeking to resist legitimate claims or mislead as to consumer rights.

In the UK we accept travel disruption as the norm and wouldn't seek recompense for a delayed or cancelled bus or train. Airlines are however subject to a compulsory compensation scheme.

The Law

The law is contained within EU Regulation 261/2004. What the Regulation says is that passengers are entitled to compensation and assistance where they are denied boarding (which includes being denied the class of seat booked), their flight is cancelled or suffers from a long delay.

These regulations apply to any flight between EU states, out of an EU state, or into an EU state by an EU based airline (the Regulations also apply to some other non EU states) . To qualify under the regulations the passenger must have a confirmed reservation, have arrived for check in on time (if no time is stipulated this is at least 45 minutes before departure) or been transferred from another flight to which they had a reservation.

Denied Boarding

On occasion airlines, particularly scheduled airlines overbook. There are sound commercial reasons for doing so in that some passengers may miss the flight or change their mind about flying. If by some misfortune more people than can be seated turn up for a flight the airline must first ask for volunteers to miss the flight.

These volunteers do not have any automatic right to cash compensation, but must negotiate a settlement with the airline. Airlines looking for volunteers in this way will normally offer an attractive inducement for you to miss the flight such as a free upgrade on the next flight, perhaps a free flight, refreshments, etc. Volunteers are automatically entitled to a ticket refund or a place on an alternative flight regardless of whatever else is negotiated.

If, having asked for volunteers the flight is still overbooked, the airline will then involuntarily deny boarding to some passengers and will select some unfortunate passengers who must miss their flight.

If you are denied boarding then you have an automatic right to cash compensation, a refund of your ticket or rerouting (rerouting is the airline word for a seat on an alternative service), and to comfort benefits which can include refreshments, communication and hotel accommodation .

Flight cancellation

Unfortunately flight cancellation can happen and for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes this is something the airline can influence such as cancelling due to staff not being available and sometimes the reason is beyond the control of the airline, eg adverse weather conditions.

Regardless the cause of the cancellation, passengers have an automatic right to either rerouting to the chosen destination at the earlier opportunity (and on comparable terms) ie the next suitable flight; or rerouting to the chosen destination at a time suitable to you; or a ticket refund. Passengers may also have an entitlement to comfort benefits and if rerouted to an alternative airport then the airline must pay for the cost of onwards transport.

The airline might also be liable to pay monetary compensation for a cancelled flight depending upon how much notice of cancellation is given and the length of any delay caused. Monetary compensation does not however have to be paid if the cancellation was caused by “extraordinary circumstances.”

Precisely what are “extraordinary circumstances” is not clearly defined and there are test cases proceeding through the UK Courts to try and resolve what is and is not an extraordinary circumstance, but clearly disruption due to weather grounding all flights, a security incident or volcanic ash cloud would fit.

Delayed departure

Delays happen for all sorts of reasons. If you have the misfortune to be delayed, then depending upon the length of delay and the type of flight (ie distance of your journey), comfort benefits should be provided.

If a delay exceeds 3 hours in length, then monetary compensation is payable equivalent to the amount due had the flight been cancelled.

In calculating the 3 hours period, it is the time you arrive at your destination that counts, so your flight could depart within 3 hours, but arrive more than 3 hours late triggering the automatic entitlement to monetary compensation provided that the delay was not caused by “extraordinary circumstances.”

If a flight is more than 5 hours late, the passenger has in addition to the above remedies, a right to abandon the journey altogether and obtain a refund, which includes a refund of connecting flights already used and a return flight to the point of origin.

How do you know if “extraordinary circumstances” apply

You are entitled to an explanation from the airline for any cancellation, delay or denied boarding. The airline may be less than candid about the real reasons, knowing that claims for compensation might follow.

Presently, what is an extraordinary circumstance is a developing area of law in the UK . It is anticipated that the EU may enact a new Regulation to clarify. In the meantime, clearly adverse weather conditions that ground all flights, volcanic clouds, and a security issue would all count. Conversely, a mechanical fault was not such a circumstance, nor would shortage of aircrew count.

Amount of compensation

The amount of compensation payable is a fixed tariff depending upon the type, or length of flight. Moreover, the compensation is payable per passenger.

Time limits for making a claim

The Regulations stipulate that claims can be made as far back as February 2005 when the Regulations came into force. However, there is a tension between this provision and The Limitation Act that applies in UK law which normally limits claims to a 6 year time limit from the date of the event.

Claiming through Optimal Claim

Here at Optimal Claim, because we speak your language we are best placed to advise you upon the merits of claiming for flight cancellation or delay. If you are one of the 30% who has been left stranded at an airport, inconvenienced and left frustrated by poor service then we can assist. We are more than happy to discuss the merits of any claim free of charge and without obligation. If you instruct us to act then we operate on a “no win no fee” basis for all cases of this type.

Got a query? Please contact us.

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