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Hot topic - The European Passenger Rights

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Time after time we read headlines concerning stranded and perplexed passengers. The recent volcano eruption in the ourskirts of Europe along with the consequences for passenger traffic that nobody would have predicted, making this subject even more relevant. So how much do we actually know about the airlines obligations as well as about what we are entitled to? This article is by no means a detailed analysis of the passenger rights issue. It is rather meant to give you an outline of it.

First and foremost, what is the legal basis of the rights we have as passengers? The full name of Regulation No 261/2004 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 of cancellation or long delay of flights».

Compensation – Rule of thumb

The single most important rule in the regulation is as follows – „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“. Remember – The airline is obliged to inform passengers of their rights. The above quotation should be visibly placed at check-in.

The full text of the regulation is intricate and I takes a couple of readings for us to comprehend its complexities. To get a rough idea of our rights it is better to follow the rule of thumb and do a simple evaluation of whether or not we are entitled to compensation. If our problem falls into one of the following categories: denied boarding, delayed arrival, cancellation or cabin class downgrading and if we are not given any explanation as to the reason of the above or the reason is one of the following: health problems within the crew, overbooking, problems caused by another flight, staff shortage, technical problem or warned strike, chances are we will receive a compensation.

If on the other hand the stated reason of the cancellation is: an unwarned strike, very serious weather conditions or restrictions imposed by the airports authorities, your compensational claim may be rejected. It does not mean the carrier is exempted from the obligation of assistance to passengers.

It is not all about compensation

One can divide the passenger rights into three categories which apply depending on the circumstances: right to reimbursement or re-routing, right to compensation and right to care (reimbursement is used when the subject is paid back for travel expenses such as mileage, lodging, food while traveling whereas compensation is a payment for things such as time, discomfort, inconvenience). 

So we should bear in mind that while we are not entitled to compensation in every situation, we still may demand to be offered assistance. Now, the requirements which have to be fulfilled for you to be entitled to reimbursement/re-routing, compensation or care are laid down in the Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 in a meticulous fashion so we suggest you read them carefully because a detailed anasysis goes beyond the scope of this article. Instead we would like to devote some attention to the following:

Compensation – Step by step and in short

Let us look into how to proceed when claiming a compensation for inconveniences. If the carrier failed to provide you with care/assistance, you may in addition claim documented expenses, such as different travel expenditures, accomodation or meals.

Firstly, demand to receive written documentation pertaining to the cancellation/de­lay/denied boarding etc. If you find the explanation unsatisfactory, submit a letter containing compensation claim and – if necessary – a reminder letter. The next step would be to turn to the National Enforcement Bodies of the region, e.g. in case of Britain the NEB is Civil Aviation Authority. Unless the NEB succeeds in convincing the carrier to accede to your claim, it will issue a written opinion which will help you in your further legal proceedings. In some countries you may be granted free trial. We know, it sound intricate and it is in fact a complicated process.

Where does the regulation apply

The above-mentions rights apply to all air carrier „flights “:http://www.whichairline.com/flights/ within and from the member states of the EU region. As regards flights to the EC region, it only applies to the EU member state based air carriers. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland follow the regulation. 


So much for the theory – you have got an image of your rights. But if you happen to get into trouble – which, we do hope, will not happen – with an unfair carrier this outline will not do. In such a case we will refer you to the full text of the EC Regulation 261/2004. And in case you wondered – Package Tours are also covered by the EC Regulation 261/2004


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