What are your rights when your flight is cancelled?
Following the trail of destruction and flight disruption caused by Hurricane Irma and more recently the news of mass Ryanair flight cancellations, we thought it would be no harm to look at consumer rights when your flight is cancelled, including the question of whether compensation is payable or not.
This month also saw the launch of our new consumer survey which aims to gather information about your shopping habits, in particular if you like to shop cross-border in person or online, if you like to bargain hunt for events like Black Friday/Cyber Monday and if you know your rights if things go wrong. ECC Ireland is calling on all its subscriber friends to take a few minutes, fill in the survey, and enter the draw for a gift hamper.
As always, we have the consumer success story of the month which describes how ECC Ireland and ECC-Net colleagues helped a consumer get a full refund after she was caught out by an invitation to download a trader’s app on the promise that the order could be cancelled easily. The consumer query of the month looks at your rights and traders’ obligations when you select a third party delivery service.
You can download your free September eBulletin PDF here or, alternatively, read on to find out more!
ECC Ireland’s tips on consumer rights when your flight is cancelled
When you’re looking forward to that well-deserved holiday the last thing you want to hear is that your flight has been cancelled and you now have to make alternative arrangements. It’s even worse when you’re already abroad and encounter difficulties trying to get home, contacting the airline, or wondering what to do while you’re waiting for another flight.
Although the majority of flights take off from the runway without a hitch, flight cancellation unfortunately does happen from time-to-time. It has been the most common area of cross-border consumer complaint dealt with by ECC Ireland year-after-year. However, this month has seen the issue of flight cancellation highlighted extensively in the media due to events such as Hurricane Irma and the cancellation of a number of Ryanair flights.
So here we are going to look at what your consumer rights are when a flight is cancelled, what an airline’s obligations are, and in what circumstances is compensation due.
Regulation (EC) 261/2004 :
Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies to passengers departing from any airport situated in the EU, or arriving into the EU with an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland.
- The Regulation established 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.
- General information entitlement: You have the right to be informed of the circumstances of your journey in a timely manner before, during, and after the travel and about your entitlements in cases of disruption.
- The air carrier must also ensure that at check-in there is a clearly legible notice containing the following text: ‘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 gates for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance’.
- In addition to this, an airline cancelling a flight should provide each passenger a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance.
Choice of rerouting or refund when your flight is cancelled:
When your flight is cancelled the airline should give you the following two choices:
- Rerouting to your final destination, or
- A refund of part, or parts, of the journey cancelled or not completed due to the cancellation. The refund should be processed within 7 days.
What happens when you choose rerouting?
If you choose rerouting instead of a refund, the airline should offer you an alternative flight to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or at a later date of your choice subject to availability of seats. If you’re offered a flight to/from an alternative airport in the region, the airline must bear the cost of transferring you to/from that alternative airport to the one in your reservation or to another close-by destination agreed with you.
Warning! – If rerouting is not suitable and as a result you make your own arrangements and book a flight with a different airline you may not be entitled to seek a reimbursement of alternative travel expenses under Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
You will also not be able to make a claim for expenses if your flight is cancelled and as a result you miss a connecting flight which was booked seperately and is considered to be separate contracts. Under the terms of the Regulation you can only seek a refund for the cancelled flight.
Care and assistance while waiting for rerouted flight
If you choose rerouting instead of a refund, the airline should offer you an alternative flight at the earliest opportunity. While you are waiting for this rerouting, you should be given appropriate care and assistance which can include meals and refreshments, communication facilities such as two phone calls or emails, and hotel accommodation (depending on the distance of the flight and in reasonable relation to the waiting times).
If the airline does not provide this care and assistance and as a result you incur additional expenses it is very important to keep any and all receipts and send copies of these to the airline when making a claim for reimbursement.
Compensation when your flight is cancelled
While the Regulation does provide for compensation when a flight is cancelled, your entitlement to this and the amount varies depending on when you were informed of the cancellation, the arrangements for an alternative flight, the distance of the flight, and the reason for the cancellation.
You are NOT entitled to compensation if:
- You were informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure
- You were informed between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered rerouting which allows you to depart no more than two hours before the original time of departure and to reach your destination less than four hours after the original time of arrival
- You were informed less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered rerouting which allows you to depart no more than one hour before the original time of departure and arrive at the final destination less than two hours after the original time of arrival.
When you are entitled to compensation, it is the distance of the flight that determines the amount:
- €250 per passenger for flights of 1,500km or less
- €400 per passenger for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
- €600 per passenger for all other flights.
Please note: 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).
What is extraordinary circumstances all about?
You may have heard the words ‘extraordinary circumstances’ mentioned quite a bit when the issue of flight cancellations and compensation is discussed. If an airline can prove that the cancellation of your flight was due to extraordinary circumstances then no compensation is payable. For the airline to rely on extraordinary circumstances it would have to prove that the cancellation was unavoidable and that all reasonable measures were taken.
So, in the case of Hurricane Irma, well it’s very clear that of course an airline could not have planned for such a severe weather event. Other examples of extraordinary circumstances can be political unrest, security threat, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, air traffic control restrictions, or strikes that affect the operation of the flight.
The burden of proof concerning questions as to whether and when the passenger has been informed of the cancellation of the flight and the explanation as to why it has been cancelled, shall lie with the airline.
In the case of the Ryanair cancellation controversy, Michael O’Leary held a press conference on Monday 18th September stating that affected passengers would receive their compensation in accordance with Regulation 261 and that it would not claim ‘exceptional [extraordinary] circumstances’.
If the cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances, you are not entitled to compensation, but the airline should still offer you the following:
- A ticket refund, or
- Alternative transport to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or rebooking at a later date of your choice (subject to seat availability)
- Care and assistance (unless you have accepted a refund).
Contacting the airline and making a claim
If your flight is cancelled then it is very important to keep a copy of all correspondence (in written format), particularly if you have had difficulty with email links for rerouting/refund and talking to customer service, in order to back up your claim at a later date. If you had been speaking with an airline representative in person or over the phone then it would be prudent to get anything agreed in writing (e.g. email) because, if a problem does occur you will have this documentary evidence as proof. Also, if you incur additional expenses then you will need to keep a copy of this to send to the airline for reimbursement.
You should lodge a formal complaint/claim in writing by following the airline’s complaint procedure – this is usually found in the ‘contact us’ section of the website. If you fail to receive a response or the response is unsatisfactory then you can contact the following:
- ECC Ireland – If you are an Irish resident and the airline is not based in Ireland but is based in another EU/EEA country.
- Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) – Only if the flight departs from Ireland, or arrives into Ireland from a third country on a community licensed airline.
- For departures outside of Ireland then the complaint could be referred to the relevant national enforcement body in that country.
CAR, which is the national enforcement body (NEB) in Ireland, has given this further advice on its website in relation to the Ryanair cancellations.
Take part in our consumer survey and enter the draw for a gift hamper
ECC Ireland, in conjunction with the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland is conducting a consumer survey to find out more about your cross-border shopping experiences. Fill in our survey and enter the free draw for a gift hamper.
Consumer success story of the month:
An Irish consumer received an email from an online accommodation booking platform which advertised that if you downloaded its app you could avail of a free cancellation policy with the booking. Without being instructed to read the rest of the email, the consumer followed the link on the email to download the app and subsequently placed a booking for accommodation in Barcelona. However, when her circumstances changed, the consumer tried to cancel the booking but the trader refused to provide this. The trader maintained that the promotion only applied to some bookings, not all.
The consumer contacted ECC Ireland who handled the case in conjunction with our ECC-Net colleagues who pointed out to the trader the following: That the consumer had been encouraged to download the app from the email, rather than from another medium and the consumer was not encouraged to keep reading the rest of the email; the top of the email read: ‘FREE cancellation – Pay at the property’; the disclaimer mentioning that the promotion only applied to some bookings was located at the bottom of the email and was not in a prominent location (e.g. towards the top of the message, in a greeting message); and while it could not be said whether the cancellation policy was set out in a clear manner during the consumer’s booking process, it was pointed out that the promotion had led the consumer to believe that this promotion was an exception to the accommodation provider’s cancellation policy. Furthermore, it was argued on behalf of the consumer that the advertisement was presented in a misleading manner as per the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, as it caused her to make a transactional decision that she wouldn’t have otherwise made. The trader agreed to refund the consumer the full costs of her booking which came to €234.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: I purchased a dress online from a UK based clothing company and opted for it to be delivered via a third-party courier service to a collection point near my home. However, the dress never arrived. I have contacted the trader in relation to the order but they stated that as I opted for the dress to be sent via a third party to a collection point, that their terms and conditions state that they are not liable for any orders sent to collection points. What rights do I have and how can I receive a refund for the goods?
A: The trader must provide proof that the dress was sent to the courier service. As per the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU, in the event of non-delivery within the time agreed, the consumer is required to call upon the trader to arrange for a reasonable additional period of time appropriate to the circumstances. If the trader fails to deliver the goods within that additional period of time, the consumer is then entitled to terminate the contract and the trader should reimburse all sums paid under the contract without undue delay. Under Article 20 of the Directive, where the trader dispatches the goods to the consumer, the risk of loss of or damage to the goods shall pass to the consumer when he/she or a third party indicated by the consumer (other than the courier/carrier) has acquired the physical possession of the goods. However, if the consumer has chosen for the delivery service (e.g. third party courier service) and that choice was not offered by the trader, then the risk passes to the consumer once the goods are in this courier service’s possession. The trader must provide proof that the dress was sent to the third-party and if they fail to do so, they should provide a refund.
Press and Communications Manager
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.
© 2017 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland), CLG incorporated in Ireland, No. 367035, Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708. Located at MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7.
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.