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Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Summer is up, tourism is recovering from pandemic years, and people are stuck at chaotic airports. Here are your rights if something goes wrong.

A shortage of staff and an excess of travellers after the coronavirus pandemic are just two of the ingredients behind the chaos in many European airports ahead of the main summer holidays.

Just as people have started travelling again, visiting friends and family and taking the holidays that were postponed several times, they now have to face long queues, delays, and even flight cancellations.

The good news is that the European Union has strict regulations protecting consumers, including those buying plane tickets.

If you have faced issues with your flight, here are your rights and how to get compensation, according to EU legislation.

First things first: is my trip covered by the EU legislation?

EU air passenger rights apply to you if your flight is within the EU or Schengen zone, if it arrives in the EU/Schengen zone from outside the bloc and is operated by an EU-based airline, or if it departs from the EU/ Schengen zone.

Additionally, the EU rights apply only if you have not already received benefits (including compensation, re-routing, and assistance from the airline) for this journey under the law of a non-EU country.

What if my flight is from the UK to an EU country?

Since January 1st 2021, the bloc’s rules and rights do not apply to cancellations or delays to flights from the UK to the EU or to those passengers denied boarding on these flights if the flight was operated by a non-EU carrier.

However, according to the rules, if your flight arrives in the European Union and is operated by an EU airline, or if you are flying to the UK from an EU country, then you are entitled to the same rights.

READ ALSO: LATEST: Italy scraps all Covid entry rules for travellers

The European Union comprises the 27 EU countries plus the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin as well as the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands (but not the Faroe Islands). The rules also apply to flights to and from Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

What about return flights?

The EU says: “The outbound and return flights are always considered as two separate flights, even if they were booked as part of one reservation.”

It’s not uncommon to book with one airline and then the flight to be operated by a different carrier, sometimes a partner line. In this case, all compensation requests should be directed to the operator, rather than the company you booked with.

The EU says: “In case of any difficulties only the airline which operates the flight can be held responsible.”

This would affect whether you are entitled to compensation if you booked with an EU-based carrier but the flight was actually operated by a non-EU carrier.

What happens if my flight is cancelled?

In case of cancellation, you have the right to choose between getting your money back, getting the next available flight, or changing the booking completely for a later date. You are also entitled to assistance free of charge, including refreshments, food, accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), transport, and communication (two telephone calls, for example). This is regardless of the reasons for cancellation.

If you were informed of the cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date, you also have a right to compensation, except if the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances” (see below for explanation of “extraordinary circumstances”.

The table below from the Europa.eu website shows the amount of compensation you are entitled to in the case of cancellations within 14 days of departure.

Often the airlines might not make this clear to you

What if my flight was delayed?

Your rights and compensation will depend on the duration of the delay and the distance of the flight.

If an airline expects that your flight will be delayed beyond the scheduled departure time, you are entitled to meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time. It starts at two hours for shorter flights (distance of 1,500 km or less), three hours or more for longer flights and a delay of four hours for all other flights.

You should make yourself known to the airline so that they can provide you with the necessary vouchers and information.

If you arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

READ ALSO: Fixed machine ‘will cut wait time for Swedish passports’

The compensation will be €250 for short flights, €400 for longer flights and up to €600 for flights covering more than 3,500 kilometres.

What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?

It can get tricky to understand your rights when most of the things you are entitled to depend on whether or not the cancellations and delays were due to extraordinary circumstances.

According to the EU, examples of events defined as extraordinary circumstances are “air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions and security risks”.

However, most technical problems which come to light during maintenance are not considered extraordinary circumstances, and staff shortages would also usually not be classed as extraordinary circumstances – but it remains to be seen if widespread shortages around Europe over the summer achieve this classification.

Workers’ strikes – a pretty regular occurance in certain countries (looking at you, France) – may be considered extraordinary circumstances.

Still, the airline needs to prove that the circumstance caused the delay or cancellation and that delays or cancellations couldn’t have been avoided “even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

READ ALSO: Germany to relax travel restrictions for summer

​​If the airline does not provide a satisfactory explanation, you can contact your national authority for further assistance.

My luggage was lost, damaged or delayed.

Unless the damage was caused by an inherent defect in the baggage itself, the airline is liable. You have the right to compensation up to approximately € 1,300.

“​​If you want to file a claim for lost or damaged luggage, you should do it in writing to the airline within 7 days, or within 21 days of receiving your luggage if it was delayed. There is no standard EU-wide form.”, the EU site adds.

What other rights do I have?

If you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked, you have the right to choose between reimbursement, going on the next flight or rebooking the journey at a later date. You are also entitled to compensation and assistance from the airline.

READ ALSO: ‘We will be understaffed this summer’ warn French airport unions

In case you are downgraded, you are entitled to reimbursement of a percentage of your ticket price, depending on flight distance, and reaching 75 per cent.

Where should I complain?

Your first point of contact should be the airline itself. However, if you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact your country’s European Consumer Centre for cross-border flights or a national consumer centre for domestic trips.

If you think you’re liable for compensation from your airline, you can file an official EU airline complaint form.

Other ways to claim compensation

Even if you are not entitled to compensation from the airline, there might be other ways to get refunds and money in case of flight cancellation and delays. 

Besides using private travel insurance, many credit and debit card companies and banks offer automatic travel insurance if you purchased a ticket with them. In some cases, you might receive cash payment for delays and cancellations even when they were due to “exceptional circumstances”.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Austrian Airlines’ boss warns of price hike for flight tickets

Travellers from Austria face a rise in the cost of flight tickets, Austrian Airlines CEO Annette Mann has warned, as well as travel headaches caused by staff shortages at airports abroad.

Increasing fuel costs will make flight ticket prices more expensive just ahead of the summer holidays, Austrian Airlines boss Annette Mann told Ö1-Morgenjournal on Friday.

She said tickets are expected to rise by “a few euros” for short flights but by €50 to €100 on longer distances. Travellers will continue to see increased ticket prices all throughout 2023 and possibly longer, according to the executive.

However, the airliner is not suffering from a shortage of personnel problems that affected several companies, including its parent company Lufthansa.

READ ALSO: Strikes and queues: How airline passengers in Europe face summer travel chaos

This is due to the short-time work (Kurzarbeit) program in Austria, which provided financial assistance to companies that did not cut jobs during the pandemic.

However, she mentioned that a “summer Covid wave” could affect personnel numbers, given people will need to take sick leave if they get infected. Still, Mann said that Austrian Airlines hired 150 new people as cabin crew to deal with the high demands on air travel.

‘We are dependent on other airports’

She did alert that, despite the company having enough personnel, they depend on the situation in other airports. “If there are delays or missing luggage in other airports, we might be affected by that”, Mann said.

The statements are in line with what Austrian airport operators have already said, as The Local has reported.

“In Vienna, our partners and ourselves succeeded, particularly through the instrument of short-time work, to keep as many personnel as possible in employment. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case at many other airports we also serve,” explained Austria Airlines spokeswoman Sophie Matkovits.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Even though airports and Austrian airlines are fully operational, they are not solely responsible for the flights. Furthermore, the companies stress that local operators can’t influence the situation at other airport locations.

Vienna Airport recommends checking the flight status and planning more time than usual for departure on intense travel days.

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