Tips on reading an airline’s small print

terms and conditions


What to look out for in the terms and conditions of carriage:


  1. Check the refund/cancellation policies

The refund and cancelation policy should always be the first thing to read no matter what good or service you are buying. You may mistakenly think that you can get a refund if you change your mind but think again (travel tickets are excluded from the right to withdrawal/14 day cooling off in online purchases). Taking one popular airline as an example, tickets with this trader are non-refundable except in certain circumstances such as death of an immediate family member who is travelling or death or serious illness of a booked passenger. However, these special circumstances have strict conditions attached to them, for example, your right to refund and the type/severity of illness that is acceptable to make such a claim is very often up to the discretion of the airline. Consumers should follow the procedure outlined by the airline which often involves putting the claim in writing (e.g. a form) and providing documentation such as a medical certificate.

Another major airline allows for partly refundable tickets if you bought a flexible ticket and even if you have there are of course conditions that apply and the airline’s right to refuse the refund for certain situations. Other airlines may allow you to cancel your booking altogether, depending on the type of ticket you bought, but it’s subject to a fee and notification period. As you can see, policies can vary depending on the airline and so it’s always best to check.


2. Hand luggage and check-in baggage policies

This is something that catches consumers out quite a lot. Some airlines may have changed their policy since the last time you flew with them (for example, Ryanair changed its hand luggage rules twice in 2018 alone) or passengers are simply not aware of what they are allowed to bring on board with them, the dimensions of the baggage, weight, where to drop the bag off or when does the bag drop desk open and close. You should therefore look to the conditions of carriage to find out all of this information, specifically to know the difference between the rules for checked-in luggage and the baggage that you’re allowed to bring on the plane with you. Failure to comply could result in extra charges being applied and if it has been clearly outlined in the conditions of carriage it could prove very difficult to dispute the charges.

Other important baggage information to look for is the airline’s liability for fragile and/or expensive items or damage to the baggage itself. For example, an airline might state that its liability for damage to baggage shall be capped, as per the liability limit set out under the Montreal Convention, at 1,131 SDR (approximately €1,400) per passenger unless you have made a declaration of higher value by check-in at the latest and have paid a supplementary fee. It may also be stated that the airline has no liability whatsoever for damage to articles not permitted to be contained in checked baggage and are considered unsuitable for carraige for reasons which include being fragile or perishable. So, if you decide to pay extra for checked-in luggage (dropped off at the bag drop desk) then you should take care when deciding what to put in it. For expensive items, such as jewellery or a laptop, it’s advisable to carry it with you and/or for delicate items, such as a musical instrument or a wedding dress, to contact the airline to seek permission to carry it on board and find out if any fees/requirements apply. You should also consider purchasing travel insurance.

Check out ECC-Net’s video below for more luggage tips



3. Check-in requirements

This is another issue that regularly confuses consumers. In any case, it’s always a good idea to double check because airlines can differ in their approach to this. For example, the customers of one airline have different lengths of time for check-in depending on what type of ticket they have; if they’ve purchased an allocated seat then they have 60 days before departure to check-in while those who opt for a free seat only have between two days and two hours before departure to check in. Another airline states that their check-in deadline is 70 minutes before departure but that check-in deadlines for other carriers operating your flight can be different and so you need to familiarise yourself with them. So, you see, it can vary widely. However, what is usually common practice is that failure to check-in and/or have a boarding pass may result in an extra fee being charged at the airport. Some airlines even go as far as to state that they reserve the right to cancel the reservation.


4. No-show clauses

Essentially these clauses mean that if you miss an outbound flight it’s considered a ‘no-show’ and you may not be able to use your return flight and/or connecting flights (if applicable). There is no refund issued to you and your seat can also be resold. The terms and conditions of some airlines may state that passengers have to inform the airline if they are prevented from flying all of the individual flight segments or flying them in the sequence specified on the ticket. So, if something happens that prevents you from using the outbound flight, and you think you can just simply book another outbound flight at a different time/date and still take the original return flight home, it is advisable to check first if you can do this.

You may wonder if airlines are allowed to do this? Well, there is currently no specific legislation at EU level banning ‘no-show clauses’ providing for the cancellation of the entire itinerary when one of the flight segments is not used and so it can be regulated by the air carrier in their general conditions of carriage. However, that is not to say that it cannot be challenged if deemed to be unfair.


5. Complaint/claims procedures

Unfortunately, problems with your flight, baggage or other issues can arise from time-to-time but very often consumers are uncertain as to how to make a complaint. Each airline has their own complaints or claims procedure and so it is important to follow this. Usually it involves putting your complaint in writing to the airline (for example, by filling in a provided form or emailing a dedicated address); you should always do this when you have a consumer dispute with any trader giving them the opportunity to rectify the situation and/or provide remedies. Obviously, sometimes you may have a more immediate problem (for example, the flight is cancelled while you’re at the airport and you need to arrange rerouting) or you can’t find the information you need in the conditions of carriage. In this situation, then you should certainly try to contact the airline by other available means such as an online customer service form or through live chat but make sure you keep evidence of this correspondence (for example, by taking screenshots).


You can find out about your air travel rights or how to avail of the ECC-Net Travel app, and much more, on the ECC Ireland website.