Liam Croke: know your rights when flights don’t go to plan

It’s getting closer to that time people start heading off on their summer holidays and whether going abroad or staying at home - without trying to put a damper on things - it’s important to know what your rights are should your flight be cancelled or delayed, or if your accommodation is nothing like what you had expected or had been promised.

It’s getting closer to that time people start heading off on their summer holidays and whether going abroad or staying at home - without trying to put a damper on things - it’s important to know what your rights are should your flight be cancelled or delayed, or if your accommodation is nothing like what you had expected or had been promised.

I want to start off with what happens if your flight is delayed. First of all, at a very basic level, you are entitled to be told by the carrier what your entitlements are and they will differ depending on the length of the delay.

If you are flying from an EU airport on any airline or from a non-EU country into an EU airport on an EU-based airline, then you are protected under what is referred to as the Denied Boarding regulation. This means the airline must compensate you if your delay goes beyond a certain point.

For example: If your flight is delayed by two hours or more you must be offered a free meal (usually given in the form of a voucher), drinks, two free telephone calls and the cost incurred if you have to send emails or faxes.

If your airline is unable, for whatever reason, to provide these to you at the time, they will reimburse you at a later date so it is important, if this happens that you keep all receipts for proof of expenditure.

Where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.

If the flight is delayed by at least five hours, you can opt for a full reimbursement of the cost of your ticket. Once the refund is accepted and issued the airline has no further duty of care with you.

However, if you have already started your journey and the purpose of your intended travel plan is no longer attainable i.e. the flight that was delayed was a connecting flight (e.g. connecting flight missed as a result of the delay of a flight in your itinerary) then you are entitled to a return flight to your original point of departure at no extra cost. 

So, what happens if your flight is cancelled?

The general rule is that if you are told that you flight is being cancelled at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure, the airline is not required to pay any compensation. They are however required to offer you:

an alternative flight at the earliest opportunity or at a later date of your choice subject to the availability of seats, or a full refund of the ticket.

If you have been given between two weeks and seven days’ notice, the airline must offer a choice between:

an alternative flight departing no more than two hours before your original departure time and allowing arrival at your final destination within fours’ hours of the original scheduled time of arrival, or a full refund of the ticket.

And if you are given less than seven days’ notice the airline has to offer you the choice between: an alternative flight departing no more than one hour before your original departure time and allowing arrival within two hours of the original scheduled time of arrival, or a full refund of the ticket.

If the alternative flight offered is not suitable to you and you decide to make your own arrangements and book a flight with another airline then you may not be entitled to seek a refund of alternative travel expenses.

Similarly, you may not be able to claim additional expenses if that subsequent flight is cancelled and you miss a connecting flight, which was booked separately.

If you are entitled to compensation the amount you are entitled to will depend on the distance of the flight and the reason why the flight was cancelled in the first place.

If the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided after all reasonable measures were taken then no compensation is payable.

Examples of what are deemed to be extraordinary include bad weather, political unrest, a security threat, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, air traffic control restrictions or strikes that affect the operation of the flight.

One of the more common reasons I have heard, and experienced myself, that cause flight delays is technical issues with the aircraft but the Commission for Aviation Regulation advised that this 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”.

So, if none of the above were the reasons the flight was cancelled then the distance of the flight will determine the amount of compensation you are due, and the amounts and distances are:

1500km or less, the amount payable is €250

1500km – 3500km and all EU flights over 3500km the amount payable is €400

3500km or more the amount payable is €600.

If an airline can offer rerouting to the final destination that does not exceed two hours for flights of less than 1500km; three hours for flights between 1500km and 3500km; and four hours for flights over 3500km the compensation will be reduced by 50%.

Next week, what happens when you arrive at your resort and rather than looking like the Burj Al Arab (this hotel in Dubai has the most expensive hotel suite in the world – just $22,900 per night) in the brochure/website, it turns out to be more like Fawlty Towers.