What rights do clients have in cases of problems with their flights

Flights are sometimes not operated in the way they are aimed to. But what rights do customers have in case their flight has been delayed? Problems that might occur are for example cancellations, delays or denials of boarding.

Legal Basis

Generally, the most important legal instrument in this topic is Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and cancellation. Indeed, it preliminarily aims to protect consumers in the field of air transportation. Additionally, the EU also published an “Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form” enabling individuals to complain at the airline.

Legal Requirements for Regulation 261/2004 to Apply

Art. 3 of Regulation 261/2004 defines the scope, meaning it defines situations in which the Regulation applies. In the first paragraph it is stated that Regulation 261/2004 applies only in cases where either the passengers depart from an airport within the European Union or in cases where the the passengers depart from an airport of a third country and arrive in the European Union flying with an airline registered in the European Union. Moreover, in the second paragraph it is required for passengers to confirm their reservation in due time. More specifically, due time here means that they confirm the reservation either in the time required by the airline or in absence of that by the latest 45 minutes before the planned departure.

Obligation to Inform Passengers About Their Rights

Combined with all the other rights under Art. 14 Regulation 261/2004 there is the obligation for airlines to inform passengers about their rights. Importantly, the airline is obliged to inform passengers about their right to care, the right to compensation and all other rights related. However, this has to be done after 2 hours of delay in a manner visible to the passengers with the inscription: “If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance”.

 

Right to Care

Art. 9 of Regulation 261/2004 establishes the right to care where referred to by other articles. Paragraph one requires that the following is offered to passengers free of charge: (a) Meals and drinks appropriate in portion relating to the waiting time, (b) accommodation where an overnight stay is necessary and (c) a transport between the airport and the accommodation referred to in (b). Moreover, paragraph two requires the passengers to be offered two phone calls, telefax, fax or emails free of charge. Additionally, paragraph three adds special rights for people with a reduced mobility requiring for certain needs and unaccompanied children. However, in case individuals are not granted such rights, they must buy food themselves and book a hotel, keep the bills and request a repayment of the airline afterwards.

Right to Reimbursement and Rerouting

According to Art. 8, in some situations referred to the passengers of flights have a right to reimbursement or rerouting, in cases of denied boarding, delayed flights or cancelled flights. Undoubtedly, in case the passenger decides for a reimbursement, the ticket price has to be paid within seven days. Moreover, the air carrier has to pay for the transport to the airport if it did not serve a purpose in the end. It should be noted that re-routing is to be made when the trip as originally planned does not serve the intended purpose anymore. Particularly, this means that it has to be ensured that the passenger reaches the original or another destination as fast as possible.

Denied Boarding

Denied boarding means that the airline refused to carry the passenger in the booked flight, for example in cases where the flight has been overbooked. But undoubtedly there are exceptions to this rule. Indeed, in cases where the airline names reasonable grounds for the refusal including health, safety, security grounds or the providence of inadequate travel documents, it is legally allowed to deny the carriage of the individual. Moreover, a denied boarding leads to the passengers right to information, right to care, right to reimbursement or rerouting as mentioned in Art. 8 Regulation 261/2004.

Cancellation

Cancellation of a flight can be defined as the airline not performing a flight in which the individual had reserved at least one seat. In this case evidently, the individual has the right to information, the right to care mentioned in Art. 9, the right to compensation, laid down in Art. 7 and the right to reimbursement or rerouting laid down in Art. 8 of Regulation 261/2004.

Delay

Art. 6 Regulation 261/2004 defines delay as an aircraft arriving later than the scheduled time. Therefore, in cases of delays longer than two hours the passengers have the right to information and the right to care. Here, the right to care is established in Art. 9 (1)(a) and 9(2) is according to Art. 6 (1) Regulation 261/2004 applicable in the following cases: (a) when the flight below 1500km is delayed for two hours or more, (b) the flight between 1500km and 3500km is delayed for three hours or more or (c) a flight longer than 3500km is delayed for four hours or more. Moreover, in cases a flight is delayed and postponed to the next day, also the rights under Art. 9 (1)(b) and Art. 9 (1)(c) are to be made available to the passengers meaning that the passengers are to be offered an accomodation and a transfer to their accomodation. Additionally, the rights established under Art. 8 (1)(a) Regulation 261/2004 are applicable in case the delay lasts longer than five hours.

Obligation to Inform Passengers About Their Rights

Combined with all the other rights under Art. 14 Regulation 261/2004 there is the obligation of the airlines to inform passengers about their rights. Consequently, the airline is obliged to inform the passengers about their right to care, the right to compensation and all other rights related. However, this has to be done after 2 hours of delay with the inscription: “If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance”.

Right to Compensation

The right to compensation is laid down in Art. 7 of Regulation 261/2004. But what does this exactly mean? Certainly, the right to compensation states that passengers receive monetary compensation in certain cases. More specifically, those cases include the denial of boarding and cancellation as mentioned in Art. 7 (1) of Regulation 261/2004. But the Joined Cases C-581/10 and C-629/10 of the European Court of Justice established that the same rights for compensation as laid down in Art. 7 261/2004 is applicable for cases of delay longer than three hours upon arrival. For this reason, the amount of compensation differs upon the distance between the airport of departure and the airport of final arrival. As stated in Art. 7 (1) of Regulation 261/2004 250€ compensation is awarded for flights of 1500km or less, 400€ compensation is awarded for flights between 1500km and 3500 km and 600€ compensation is awarded for flights of more than 3500km. However, here it is important to consider that sometimes exceptions can apply to the right to compensation. Consequently, this means that the airline does not have to pay compensation in situations where the problem can be justified due to extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances include political instability in the country of origin / the country of destination, the compatibility of weather conditions with the performance of the flight, security risks, unexpected flight safety deficiencies or strikes affecting the operation of an air carrier in charge of performing a flight. Besides, there are also other exceptional cases in which the airline does not have to pay compensation. This includes firstly when the air carrier informed the passengers about the delay or cancellation 14 days before the scheduled flight, secondly when the air carrier informed the passenger about the problem seven days before the flight and offered an alternative transport departing no more than two hours in advance and arriving no later than four hours at the final destination and thirdly when the air carrier informed about the cancellation less than seven days in advance and offered an alternative transportation departing no more than one hour in advance and arriving no later than two hours late at the final destination.

Legal Enforcement

However, in cases the airlines do not want to pay the compensation to the customer, the individual has to initiate a judicial procedure against the airline.

AESA: Agencia Estatal De Seguridad Aerea

The AESA is a Spanish State Agency focused on protecting customers of air transport users. Therefore, it was established in the Official State Gazette of 10/05/2023 through a resolution of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. Thereby, it is aimed to ensure that air transport regulations are effectively complied with in Spain so that complaints are enforced. More specifically, AESA offers an alternative way of dispute resolution, more specifically, it provides for legally binding decisions for individuals aiming to avoid expensive court proceedings while at the same time enforcing individuals rights. Undoubtedly, the requirement for the AESA to become active is that the matter must fall under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights or Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air and the AESA must be the competent authority for the complaint. Generally, it is aimed to provide a rapid and monetary free possibility for customers to enforce their rights. Consequently, if the airline does not comply with the judgement of the AESA within one month, the passenger can request for compliance with the agency decision in front of a court. However, it must be noted that this alternative procedure is no prerequisite for court proceedings.

Piñera del Olmo

 Aribau 114, entlo 2a
 08036 Barcelona

 Phone: +34 93 514 39 97

 Fax: +34 93 127 07 66

 Emailrpinera@pineradelolmo.com