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The recent British Airways IT failure that caused extensive flight delays and cancellations is likely to lead to a flood of legal claims. It is a complicated area of law, which is governed to large extent by European legislation. The main types of air travel-related claims are:

  • Denied boarding;
  • Cancellations; and
  • Long flight delays.

Are you protected?

The Denied Boarding Regulation (Reg 261/2004) applies to passengers departing from an airport within the EU and passengers departing from an airport outside the EU for an airport within the EU, provided that the airline is based in an EU state.

Flight cancellation

When a flight is cancelled, the airline must offer a passenger the option of being reimbursed or rerouted. If a flight has been cancelled, the airline must offer a passenger a choice of refund or alternative flight and they will also be entitled to claim compensation. The rates of compensation are as follows:

  • €250 for flights up to 1,500km;
  • €400 for flights within the EU of more than 1,500km, and for all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

These amounts are reduced by 50 per cent if the airline can offer the passenger an alternative flight route to their final destination, with a new scheduled arrival time that doesn’t exceed the original scheduled arrival time by:

  • Two hours for flights of up to 1,500km
  • Three hours for flights within the EU of more than 1,500km, and for all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • Four hours for all other flights.

Flight delays

If a flight has been delayed, a passenger may be entitled to compensation. Entitlement will depend on the reason for the cancellation. If a flight is cancelled or delayed due to an “extraordinary circumstance” then no compensation will be payable. Extraordinary circumstances are those events beyond the airline’s control, such as severe weather conditions.

When there is a disruption of two or more hours, the airline will still have a duty to its passengers and, as such, should offer food and drinks appropriate to the waiting time, overnight accommodation where necessary, transport between the airport and accommodation where necessary, and the right to make two phone calls, faxes or emails for free.

If the delay is more than two hours after the scheduled time, passengers of flights delayed by more than three hours can claim compensation. The level of compensation is as follows:

  • €250 for all flight delays of over three hours for distances of 1,500km or less;
  • €400 for flights delays of over three hours for any flight within the EU over 1,500km, and for all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

Package holidays

If the flight forms part of a package holiday, the amount of compensation available is restricted and passengers will not be able to recover the total cost of the holiday.

Denied boarding

In the event that a passenger is denied boarding, the airline must immediately provide the passenger with either of the following: compensation, reimbursement or rerouting, or care and assistance. If a passenger has been denied boarding for health reasons, safety and security, or because they have presented invalid travel documentation, the operator is not under any obligation to compensate a passenger.

What is classified as ‘denied boarding’?

Under the regulations, to be able to claim compensation, a passenger who has been denied boarding must prove each of the following:

  • They have a confirmed reservation on the flight or have been transferred to an alternative flight from the flight for which they held a reservation;
  • They have checked in at the time stipulated by the air carrier, the tour operator or an authorised travel agent;
  • If no time was indicated, the passenger must have checked in no later than 45 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure;
  • They provided the relevant travel documentation to fly, including passports, visas and boarding passes. It is the passenger’s duty to check the visa and ID travel requirements for their intended destination.

Can passengers be removed against their will?

An operating aircraft can deny passengers from boarding a flight; in most circumstances, they are first required to seek volunteers and those people who give up their reservations must be offered  reimbursement of the cost of their original ticket or the airline must cover the cost of rerouting their flight at the earliest opportunity.

If there is a shortage of volunteers, the carrier may then choose to deny boarding to passengers against their will.

What can I claim if I have been denied boarding?

Depending on the flight’s intended destination, a passenger may be entitled to compensation up to €600. In addition, they could be entitled to reimbursement of the cost of the original ticket within seven days. As an alternative, the airline can cover the costs of rerouting the journey. Airlines also have an additional duty to care for their passengers, which includes amenities such as food, drink, access to telecommunications and accommodation where necessary.

Lyons Davidson are regularly instructed by clients who have experienced cancelled or delayed flights. If you have endured a flight delay, cancellation or have been denied boarding, please get in touch with Shan Parker in the Civil Litigation team at [email protected].