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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Q&A: Passenger rights
The wildcat strike at British Airways has left thousands of passengers stranded. BBC News Online explains what rights you have as an air passenger.

When I buy an airline seat what rights do I have?

When an airline sells a seat it's only promising to take the passenger to a particular destination. There is no guarantee as to time of arrival.

In fact, even after boarding has taken place the airline has the right to order passengers from the flight.

Passengers that refuse to comply with a request to disembark could face action from the airline.

So I can't claim compensation from the airline if my flight is delayed by a strike?

At present, strictly speaking, that's right. An airline can simply refer delayed passengers to either their tour operators - in the case of a chartered flight - or to their travel insurers.

A comprehensive travel insurance policy may pay out for any inconvenience caused by a flight delay.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), charter flight customers can refuse to take a seat on a plane that has been delayed more than 12 hours, claiming a full refund.

What is more, new legislation due to come into force in a little over a year's time will enshrine more robust air-passenger compensation rights in European Union (EU) law.

What rights will be enshrined in the new EU law?

The European Parliament backed tougher rights for air travellers in a formal vote earlier this month.

For the first time, passengers hit by delays will also be able to get their air fares refunded.

Under the new rules, those having to wait longer than two hours for a short-haul flight and four hours for a long-haul one will be able to get their money back.

The new compensation levels have been bitterly criticized by low-cost airlines, who complain the payouts could be many times the value of a ticket.

What if I miss a connecting flight due to a delay?

If the connecting flight is with the same airline then they are duty bound to get you to your final destination but with no guarantee as to time of arrival.

If, however, the missed connecting flight is with another airline then they can, in theory, refuse you a seat on a later flight.

But in the cut-throat world of airlines where passenger traffic is at a premium, an airline taking such a stance is rare, although they may ask for a supplement.

In such cases, yet again, the onus is on the passenger to seek compensation for costs incurred by a delay from their travel insurer.

What if, when I check-in, I am told that the aircraft is full and I can't get aboard?

Airlines often assume that some passengers will miss check-in times, and so overbooking of flights is not uncommon.

However, sometimes this means there are too many passengers for a flight. In such cases, the airline is entitled to 'bump' passengers onto a later flight.

The good news for the passenger is that being 'bumped' at an EU airport can lead to compensation.

According to European Union rules the airline must re-route the passenger and pay 150 euros for flights up to 3,500km - 75 euros if the delay to the passenger is less than two hours.

But the new rules voted upon by the EU parliament will see compensation rates rise.

For short-haul flights, the figure will be 250 euros ($286;172), rising in stages to 600 euros ($686;413) for long-haul flights.

In many cases airlines will try to find a passenger who is willing to take a later flight, often sweetening the pill with a free upgrade.

What if the airline loses my luggage?

Along with flight delays lost luggage is the most common cause for passenger complaint.

The airline is liable for luggage carried in the hold of the plane. However, liability is strictly limited - passengers are entitled to only 15 per each kilo of luggage lost, irrespective of its true value.

Who can I complain to?

The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) can investigate complaints from passengers on scheduled flights.

Their address is: CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TE. Telephone 020 7240 7071.

As for problems with charter flights, tour operators are the first port of call with complaints.

However, if the operator is a member of ABTA, unhappy passengers can complain to them. The ABTA helpline is 020 7307 2043.




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