Summer is now upon us and many of those who are travelling abroad this summer are frantically searching holiday brochures and websites to secure the best value flights.  Though most will have a pleasant and satisfactory flight experience, some will possibly be affected by delays, cancellations, overbooking or lost luggage.

It is important that those of you travelling the skies this summer are aware of your rights and entitlements as air passengers. This article will specifically deal with the rights and entitlements of air passengers under European law, which are governed by EU Regulation 261/2004.

Flight Delays

Where an airline expects a flight to be delayed beyond the scheduled departure time, depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight, the airline is obliged to provide passengers with benefits and entitlements.  For example, if a flight is delayed for more than four hours, regardless of the distance of the flight, passengers are entitled to meals and refreshments as well as two free telephone calls, emails or faxes.

Where the expectation of delay is at least the day after the scheduled departure time, passengers are entitled to hotel accommodation where an overnight stay becomes necessary and transport between the hotel and that accommodation.

If the delay is five hours or more, passengers are entitled to a refund of the full cost of the flight ticket.  EU Regulation 261/2004 does not provide for the payment of compensation to passengers affected by flight delays. However, the European Court of Justice has ruled that compensation is payable in limited circumstances where  the delay exceeds three hours.

Flight Cancellations

Where a flight is cancelled, passengers are entitled to a refund of the full cost of their ticket.

Alternatively, passengers may opt to re-route at the next available opportunity or at a later date. If a passenger elects to re-route at the next available opportunity, that passenger is entitled to meals and refreshments reasonable to the waiting time and two telephone calls or faxes or emails. Overnight accommodation must be also be provided if necessary.

The Regulation provides that, in certain circumstances, passengers are entitled to compensation in the event of flight cancellation.  For example,  if a passenger has not been afforded sufficient notice of that her flight has been cancelled and has not been offered an alternative flight, she may seek compensation from the airline.

If the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, no compensation is payable. Examples include industrial disputes which affect the operation of the flight, adverse weather conditions and security risks.

Overbooked Flights

If a passenger presents herself for boarding an airport and is subsequently informed that her flight is overbooked, the airline will generally call on volunteers to surrender their flight in exchange for certain benefits.  If an insufficient number of passengers elect to forgo their flight,  those who are denied boarding as a result of overbooking will have the same entitlements as those in the event of flight cancellation.

Lost or Damaged Luggage

If a passenger’s luggage is lost or damaged, the airline is liable.  However, the airline may deny liability if the luggage is faulty.  Luggage is deemed to have been lost if it does not arrive within 21 days from the scheduled date.

EU Regulation 261/2004 provides extensive protection for air passengers. A number of amendments to the Regulation are  currently being considered which will ensure that air passengers are armed with further rights and entitlements.