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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 19:02 GMT
Q&A: Air passengers' rights
q & a

Delays, lost luggage, missed connections.... BBC News Online looks at what rights you have as an air passenger.

When a passenger buys a seat on a plane, what rights do they have?

When an airline sells a seat it's only promising to take the passenger to a particular destination, there's 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 to a request to disembark could face action from the airline.

So if a flight is delayed a claim for compensation can't be made against the airline?

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 even to their travel insurers.

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

According to 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 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.

However, 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 a European Union 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.

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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