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Air passenger rights, compensation & complaints

Published Thursday, May 23, 2019

Passengers rights are guaranteed through a combination of EU regulation, international conventions and resolutions, as well as voluntary commitments of airlines. The applicability of these rights depends on the airline a person is travelling with and where they are departing from.

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EU Regulation 261/2004/EC establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or long delay of flights. This only applies to passengers flying with a designated EU airline or departing from an EU country. The extent of the compensation offered is determined based on the length of delay and a flight’s distances, broken down into short-haul (less than 1,500km), medium-haul (1,500 to 3,500km) and long-haul flights (more than 3,500km).

It should be noted that, under EU rules, an airline is only obligated to pay compensation when the cause of the delay is within their remit. For instance, a claim can likely be made if the delay was caused by poor aircraft maintenance or flight crew being unavailable. However, delays caused by things like extreme weather, air traffic control or airport employee strikes, situations where the entire airport was closed or other ‘extraordinary circumstances’ are not eligible for compensation.

In terms of non-EU regulated airlines, a passenger’s rights depend on the terms and conditions of the contract undertaken with the airline. Most airlines base their terms and conditions on those recommended by the International Air Transport Association. This means that when delays or cancellation happen, most airlines have a contractual obligation to offer passengers a choice between a later flight, mutually agreed alternative transportation or a refund.

If a claim for compensation or reimbursement is rejected by an airline, there are other avenues for to take forward a claim. Some airlines and airports are members of alternative dispute resolution bodies (ADR). ADR means settling a dispute without asking a court to decide on your issue.

Details of how to make a complaint about a flight or an experience at an airport are given on the CAA website.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8576

Authors: Andrew Haylen; Louise Butcher

Topic: Aviation

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