Denied boarding and EU air passenger rights

Okay so you’ve paid a hefty sum for your flight, you’re dying to get on the plane and get the holiday started, or maybe you’re coming home and just want to get back into your own bed as soon as possible so you can wake up bright and bushy tailed for work. But then the unexpected happens – you’re denied boarding. What now? Can the airline do this? You’ve gone from happy-go-lucky to ‘I’m ringing Joe Duffy’ in a split second.

There has been a lot in the media recently about air passengers either being forcibly removed from a plane, or denied boarding because the flight was overbooked. The ECC Ireland team thought it was a good idea to talk about denied boarding, what your rights are under EU consumer legislation if you are denied boarding, and what the airline’s obligations are.


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Denied boarding consumer rights

Passengers being removed from an airline is, thankfully, not the run-of-the-mill approach to the problem of overbooked flights. In this day and age, of social media video guardians of justice, we certainly would have had more reports of such treatment by now.

It’s more usual, for denied boarding to occur at the gate, before the passenger even gets onto the overbooked plane. So there really isn’t any need to initiate Kung-Fu attack code red!

However, these media reports do serve to spark a discussion here about denied boarding and EU air passenger rights legislation.


Regulation (EC) No 261/2004:

The Regulation establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers which air carriers are obliged to comply with in the event of flight delay, cancellation, or denied boarding. It applies to passengers departing from any airport situated in the EU, or arriving into the EU with an EU-based air carrier or one from Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland.

Under Article 4 of the Regulation, when a flight is overbooked the air carrier can first call on passengers to volunteer their seats to other passengers. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone volunteer to give up their seats? Well, you might, depending on what you get in return for the sacrifice. If volunteers do come forward they can surrender their reservations in exchange of benefits to be agreed between the passenger and the air carrier. Now, what these benefits are vary from case-to-case and really depends on negotiations between the two parties. In addition to this, the air carrier should also give you a choice between alternative flights or a refund of the ticket.

If not enough volunteers come forward to give up their reservations, then the air carrier may then deny boarding to passengers against their will which means you can be prevented from boarding the plane even though you arrived at the airport on time with a confirmed reservation, the required documentation, and sufficient time to complete check-in, security, and boarding procedures.

If you are denied boarding against your will, the air carrier should offer you the choice between:

  • Re-routing to your final destination as soon as possible, or
  • A refund of the part of parts of the journey not completed.


Care and assistance while waiting for re-routed flight:

If you choose the re-routing option then you are also entitled to care and assistance while you are waiting for your alternative flight. This care and assistance means you should be provided with:

  • Meals and refreshments (in reasonable relation to the waiting time)
  • Hotel accommodation (where an overnight stay becomes necessary)
  • Transport between the airport and the hotel (where necessary)
  • Two telephone calls/faxes/emails.


Denied boarding and compensation:

As well as care and assistance, passengers denied boarding against their will are also entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation payable depends on the distance of the flight – it ranges from €250 for flights for 1,500km, €400 for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km, to €600 for all other flights.

The rules under Regulation 261 for denied boarding do not apply where the airline has reasonable grounds to refuse boarding to passengers. This would include health, safety, or security concerns, inadequate travel documents, or if the passenger arrives too late for the check-in or boarding procedures.

You can learn more about your air passengers rights including flight cancellation, flight delay, and lost or damaged baggage on ECC Ireland’s website.




Competition and consumer protection commission