Know your rights when flying this Christmas and check gift voucher small print
Christmas Day is nearly here and you’re busy with last minute preparations – wrestling your way through queues, buying a turkey that will hopefully fit into the oven this year, and putting up so many Christmas lights that you’ll be the envy of the street, and possibly a fire hazard. While that’s happening there will be family and friends travelling home for the festive season. Maybe you’ll also be planning a trip away from New Year celebrations? Whatever your plans, there is a lot to organise so ECC Ireland thought we’d make it a little easier by going over a few air passenger rights pointers.
This is also the time of year when you either give or receive vouchers. There’s the temptation to just buy without checking the small print or to put them away only to forget about them. This month’s ebulletin also has some gift voucher tips.
ECC Ireland also had the launch of a new Services Directive report which found that despite EU legislation consumers are still facing discrimination based on nationality or place of residence when they try to avail of services online and offline. We have more details and photos from the launch in Belfast so read on to find out more.
This month’s consumer success story is very topical as it relates to the Services Directive and looks at how one Irish trader changed its business practices when ECC Ireland enquired about the justification for discriminating against a Luxembourgish consumer.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s December 2016 eBulletin.
Flying this Christmas? Here’s a little air passenger rights reminder
It’s that time of year when family and friends will be flying home for Christmas. Perhaps you’re the one that will be heading off for festive fun or just to get away from all the Crimbo madness? Whatever your plans, we all know of someone who will be taking to the skies over the next few days. It’s estimated that from Friday, December 23rd to Friday, January 6, 2017, some 978,000 people will travel through Dublin Airport. That’s a lot of passengers!
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of airlines and staff problems can and do occur. In fact, the ECC Ireland team has dealt with 330 air travel-related cases. Flight cancellations and delays are the most common cause of complaint, followed by claims in relation to luggage.
The ECC-Net Air Passengers Rights Report released at the end of 2015 found that consumers are still facing difficulty receiving compensation in cases of delayed and cancelled flights and that lack of awareness about air passenger rights is a contributing factor.
It is clear that air passengers do need to be more aware of their rights, particularly during busy periods where there can be flight delay, cancellation, problems with baggage, or events such as strikes. In fact, trouble was brewing at a number of UK airports with check-in staff and baggage handlers threatening a two-day strike from Friday, December 23rd. That strike action has now been called off, however, Virgin Atlantic pilots will start a work-to-rule from December 23rd in a dispute over union recognition. So if you, or anyone you know, are planning to travel during Christmas it’s best to double check what your rights are, just in case.
Your festive guide to air passenger rights:
Under Regulation (EC) 261/2004, if your flight is cancelled you should be given the choice of either rerouting to your final destination or availing of a refund for the part, or parts, of the journey cancelled or not completed. The Regulation provides that compensation is payable in cases of flight cancellation. The entitlement and the amount varies depending on when you are informed of the cancellation, the arrangements for an alternative flight, the distance of the flight cancelled and the reason for the cancellation.
The general rule is that if you are informed about the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure, the air carrier is not required to pay compensation. Otherwise, the distance of the flight determines the amount of compensation due ranging from €250 per passenger up to a maximum of €600 per passenger. The amount of compensation payable may be reduced by 50% if the rerouting offered allows you to arrive at your final destination close to the original scheduled arrival time (within two to four hours depending on the distance of the flight).
However, if the air carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures were taken, no compensation will be payable. Examples of events which may constitute extraordinary circumstances include bad weather, political unrest, a security threat, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, air traffic control restrictions or strikes that affect the operation of the flight.
Even where no compensation is payable, passengers who chose rerouting must be offered care and assistance free of charge while waiting for their rerouted flight – specifically, meals, refreshments, a couple of telephone calls or emails and, in cases where a stay overnight becomes necessary, accommodation, as well as transport between the airport and place of accommodation. In cases where the air carrier is unable to provide these provisions free of charge then they should reimburse you for expenses incurred so make sure to keep a copy of all receipts.”
If your flight is delayed two hours or more (depending on the distance of the flight and in reasonable relation to the waiting time) you must also be offered the aforesaid care and assistance, irrespective of the cause of the delay.
If the flight is delayed by at least five hours, you can opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, if you decide not to fly. Once the refund is accepted no further care from the air carrier may follow. However, if you have already started your journey and the purpose of your original travel plan is no longer attainable (for example, connecting flight missed as a result of the delay of a flight in your itinerary) then you have the right to a return flight to the original point of departure at no extra cost. In such a case, the air carrier may not decline your right to care and assistance.
Although the Regulation itself does not expressly state that compensation is payable in cases of delay, the Court of Justice of European Union maintains that compensation should be payable in the event of a delay of three or more hours, unless the reason of the delay was ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
When a flight is overbooked the air carrier must call on passengers to volunteer their seats to other passengers. If volunteers come forward they are entitled to a sum of money or other benefits to be agreed between the air carrier and the passenger. The volunteers are also entitled to choose between an alternative flight or a refund of the ticket. If not enough volunteers come forward the air carrier can refuse to board passengers against their will.
If you are denied boarding against your will – though you arrived on time, had a confirmed reservation and all the right documents – you have the right to be compensated (from €250 to €600 per passenger, depending on the distance of the flight) and the same entitlements as those whose flights have been cancelled.
In all cases, you have the right to be informed and so airlines are required to provide a written notice setting out the rules for assistance and compensation under Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
Damaged, delayed or lost baggage:
First thing to do is go to the relevant baggage claims desk and fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) providing details of your bag and keep a copy for yourself. Keep your boarding card, baggage tags, proof of damage (e.g. photographs), and receipts of items damaged or destroyed, and of all necessary expenses.
It’s important to remember that there is a time limit for written claims for compensation – 21 days for delayed baggage and 7 days for damaged baggage from the date of receiving the luggage. Under the Montreal Convention you can claim compensation of up to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) – which amounts to approximately €1,450 – if your checked baggage fails to arrive on time or is damaged.
Gift vouchers – the dos and don’ts
Gift vouchers are very handy, especially when you’re not sure what to get people or you just want to give family and friends more choice on what they want to use it for and when. However, we’re all guilty of not double checking the fine print and putting the voucher safely away, so safely in fact that we forget where we put it only to discover to our horror that it expired months ago. Here’s some advice to help ensure that the dust doesn’t settle on that voucher.
If you’re going to buy a last minute voucher for someone don’t let the Christmas shopping dash stop you from reading the terms and conditions. Whether it’s online or offline make sure that that ‘brilliant deal’ is all it’s cracked up to be. If you are giving a voucher, or you receive one for Christmas, then you’ll need answers to the following:
- When does the voucher expire?
- If it’s a service, is there a deadline to book by?
- Is the voucher only valid during certain time period?
- What exactly does the voucher entitle the receiver to?
- Is the voucher only for certain stores/premises or items.
- How can the voucher be redeemed? For example, is there a particular phone number or person to talk to? Is it by email?
Many traders do not offer refunds for any unused amounts. If there is no expiry date then check the trader’s website or contact them to enquire. Just in case it’s advisable to use vouchers as soon as possible as it’s so easy to forget about them.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has a dedicated page where you can find more information on gift vouchers, including a list of popular gift vouchers and gift cards expiry policies.
Launch of the ECC-Net Services Directive report
It’s been another busy month with the launch of the European Consumer Centres Network’s (ECC-Net) Services Directive Report. ECC Ireland, in conjunction with the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland, launched the report at the European Commission Representation in Northern Ireland in Belfast on Wednesday, December 14th.
The report, titled Do Invisible Borders Still Restrict Consumer Access to Services in the EU?, found that despite EU legislation (Article 20.2 of the Services Directive) prohibiting discrimination based on nationality and place of residence, business practices such as geo-blocking are still preventing consumers from accessing services when shopping online.
Ireland had the third highest number of complaints received from consumers with 66 Article 20.2 related complaints. The top spot was taken by Austria with 138 complaints, followed by Italy in second place with 68 complaints.
The report found that consumers continue to face restrictions and are regularly confronted with refusal to deliver or higher prices based on their nationality or place of residence. The complaints show that some traders have created artificial barriers and the reason given for the restrictions applied are often unjustified.
ECC-Net is now calling for greater clarity on what constitutes discrimination under Article 20.2 and for stronger enforcement when breaches by service providers do occur.
Other EU news:
The European Commission has this week launched the European Solidarity Corps programme. The scheme is for young people aged between 18 and 30 years old who are interested in volunteering or interning abroad. After signing up to the scheme participants will be matched with new opportunities across the EU to gain invaluble experience at the start of their career.
The Commission will kick-start the project with funding of €113 million. For volunteers, their costs will be covered and the focus is particularly on disaster prevention and post-disaster clean-ups. For the internships and apprenticeships, the funding will come from Erasmus + and other EU budgets like the LIFE programme. Public Employment Services around the Member States will be closely involved in the professional stream of the Solidarity Corps. Participants will get an official certificate to acknowledge their work.
For further information, go to the European Solidarity Corps website.
Consumer success story of the month:
A Luxembourgish consumer tried to rent a car through a car rental broker based in Ireland. The consumer was informed that the trader’s insurance would not be available to him as he was a resident in Luxembourg. He was offered the car rental service with a different insurance provider but this meant that the price would be higher.
The consumer sought assistance from ECC Luxembourg and the matter was referred to ECC Ireland. The trader was reminded that under Article 20.2 of the Services Directive consumers should not be discriminated against based on nationality or place of residence unless this can be justified by objective criteria. The trader argued that the discrimination could be objectively justified as the bundled car rental and insurance package was only offered to consumers with residency in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This business practice was based on research that found that the vast majority of consumers with residency in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland will purchase an insurance product when booking a car rental. According to the trader, the bundled product was objectively justified in order for the car rental provider to be competitive in the market.
Although the trader argued that the different treatment if offered based on a consumer’s nationality or place of residence could be justified it did agree to remove the restriction on its website for future consumers.
Press and Communications Officer
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2016 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.