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Flight delay, cancellation: Your rights as a passenger

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Have you ever had to reschedule your travel plans due to a flight cancellation or delay? And although it may be poor consolation: An EU law clearly defines the compensation that airlines have to pay in such cases. 

According to the Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 of the EU, passengers flying with airlines from EU and EFTA countries and with start or destination airport in an EU or EFTA country (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) are entitled to compensation of up to 600 euros if they are not transported. However, this right applies only in the event of short-term cancellations no earlier than two weeks prior to departure and if the airline offers no alternative flight corresponding to the provisions of the EC regulation, article 5, para. 1(c).

Flight passengers' rights: 250 to 600 euros in compensation

The designated compensation depends on the length of the flight route booked:

  • Flight distance up to 1500 km: 250 euros per passenger
  • Flight distance 1500 to 3500 km: 400 euros per passenger
  • Flight distance over 3500 km (and beyond the EU border): 600 euros per passenger

The airline can reduce the compensation by 50% if the passengers affected are offered a reasonable alternative flight. An alternative flight is considered reasonable for a flight distance 

  • up to 1500 km if the arrival time is no more than 2 hours later
  • from 1500 km to 3500 km with an arrival time no more than 3 hours later 
  • over 3500 km with an arrival time no more than 4 hours later 

than the scheduled arrival time of the flight originally booked.

No compensation is due

  • in case of cancellation between 2 weeks and 7 days prior to the scheduled time of departure if an alternative transportation offer enables departure no more than 2 hours before the scheduled time of departure and arrival at the final destination no more than 4 hours after the scheduled time of arrival;

  • in case of cancellation less than 7 days prior to the scheduled time of departure if an alternative transportation offer enables departure no more than 1 hour before the scheduled time of departure and arrival at the final destination no more than 2 hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

 

Since the so-called Sturgeon judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2009, this compensation rule applies even in the case of delays of more than 3 hours – but only if the flight begins or ends in an EU country. 

If a cancellation or delay occurs due to exceptional circumstances (bad weather conditions, bird strike, technical failure despite sufficient maintenance, the threat of terrorism, medical incidents, strikes, etc.), the airline is not to blame - and passengers have no right to compensation.

How to claim your rights

  • Assert your claim for compensation as a result of cancellation, denied boarding or delay directly with the airline.
  • Send the airline your account details and a deadline for transferring the compensation so that the process can be carried out swiftly.
  • Demand repayment of the original fare you paid in the case of cancellation or denied boarding if you were not offered a reasonable alternative flight.
  • If you incur expenses as a result of cancellation, denied boarding or delay exceeding the compensation in accordance with the Flight Compensation Regulation, you can include these in your damage claim. The so-called obligation to minimize loss applies here: Only expenses that are considered reasonable are compensated – stays in a five-star hotel and limousine transfers will not be paid by the airline.

Get your entitlement to compensation checked!

Your legal protection insurance will assist you in asserting a claim with the airline due to cancellation, denied boarding or major delay. If you do not have the appropriate insurance, you can check your entitlement to compensation via portals such as Cancelled.ch or Flightright.de . However, the flight passenger legal experts charge 20 to 30%  of any compensation payment they successfully claim.

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