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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 11:00 GMT
Q&A: New air passenger rights
Planes at Heathrow airport
Each year several million air passengers are the victims of overbooking, lengthy delays and sudden cancellation of flights. However, new rules which came into force from 17 February promise many air travellers compensation.

What's happening?

The new rules, originating from the European Union, will help millions of travellers worldwide who are left "stranded" at airports because of delays, cancellations or overbooking.

Will the rules only apply to EU residents?

No. Although the regulations have been created by the EU, you won't have to live within the EU to benefit.

Passengers travelling on all domestic and international flights taking off from any airport in the European Union, including French overseas territories, will be covered by the regulations.

If you are travelling from an EU airport, all airlines - whether European or not - are subject to the rules.

People flying into the European Union from overseas will also be covered by the new rules, as long as they are travelling on a European airline.

Are only scheduled flights covered?

It doesn't matter if you are flying no-frills, on a charter or scheduled service.

Flights originating from the EU, which have been sold as part of a package tour, will also be covered.

What happens if my flight is overbooked?

In an attempt to discourage airlines from overbooking, passengers can now get roughly double the existing compensation if they are bumped off a flight.

Compensation must be paid immediately.

These passengers must also be offered the choice of a refund, a flight back to their original point of departure, or an alternative flight to continue their journey.

If an aeroplane has been overbooked, passengers who have already been allocated seats can choose if they want to volunteer their seat in return for cash, negotiated with the airline.

If you volunteer you should also be offered the choice of a refund, a flight back to their original point of departure, or an alternative flight to continue your journey.

Passengers who are inconvenienced through overbooking may also have rights to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation if necessary and, perhaps, even free e-mails, faxes or telephone calls.

What if my flight is cancelled?

You should be offered a refund of your ticket, along with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant. Or, alternative transport to your final destination.

You should also have rights to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation if necessary and, perhaps, even free e-mails or telephone calls.

CANCELLATIONS
Airlines can only offer you a refund in the form of travel vouchers if you agree in writing
Refunds may also be paid in cash, by bank transfer or cheque

If the reason for your flight's cancellation is "within the airline's control", it must pay compensation.

Compensation for cancellations must be paid within seven days.

However, if the airline has given passengers at least two week's notice or has provided an alternative flight, close to the time of the original, it does not have to compensate those customers.

What if my flight is delayed?

When a flight is delayed, the airline may be obliged to supply meals and refreshments, along with accommodation if an overnight stay is required.

Whether you qualify will depend on the length of the flight and the delay.

For example, for flights of 1,500km or less where there is a delay of more than two hours, a passenger should be given meals and refreshments, along with two free telephone calls, e-mails, telexes or faxes.

If the delay is for five hours or more, passengers are also entitled to a refund of their ticket with a free flight back to your initial point of departure if this is relevant.

Any catches?

Yes.

Airlines won't have to pay compensation if the reason for delays or cancellations was due to "extraordinary circumstances".

LEGISLATION
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91

Airlines are likely to argue that bad weather, strike action, or delays caused by air-traffic control or security alerts are outside their control.

Most airlines are not happy with the new rules and they have been seeking to challenge them in the courts.

They are also warning fares could rise as passengers will ultimately foot the bill for any additional costs incurred as a result of the regulations.

I'm a disabled traveller. Do I get any extra help?

Airlines must also "pay particular attention" to the needs of people with "reduced mobility" and anyone accompanying them.

What if I've got a cheap ticket?

If you bought your ticket through a frequent flyer programme or a discounted deal, you should still be covered by the new rules.

What if I'm upgraded or downgraded?

Airlines cannot charge extra if they need to upgrade passengers.

If someone is downgraded to economy, for example, because of an overbooking in business class, they must receive compensation within seven days proportionate to the type of ticket.

How will I know I have these new rights?

Airlines must ensure there is a clear notice about the new rights at check-ins.

And, if a passenger is denied boarding or a flight is cancelled, they must be given a written notice explaining the rules.

What if I'm on a package holiday, which originates outside the EU?

It's tough luck for the moment.

However, in 2007 the European Commission may be extending rights to passengers who fly into the EU on a European airline when the flight is part of a "package tour".

Who can I complain to?

Each EU member state has an enforcement body dealing with complaints that may arise from the rules. The full list is available on the European Commission's transport website (see link on top right).

British travellers can complain to The Air Transport Users' Council (AUC), which also has detailed guidance on its website (see link on top right) about the changes.

COMPENSATION: OVERBOOKING AND CANCELLATIONS
Length of journey Delay to destination Compensation
Up to 1,500km More than 2 hours 250 euros (173.04)
1,500km to 3,500km Up to 3 hours 200 euros (138.40)
1,500km to 3,500km More than 3 hours 400 euros (276.83)
More than 3,500km More than 4 hours 600 euros (415.26)
Source: Air Transport Users' Council




SEE ALSO:
Should airlines pay out for delays?
17 Feb 05 |  Have Your Say
Air passenger rights given boost
16 Feb 05 |  Business
Why is the Ryanair case important?
21 Dec 04 |  Business
New EU law over air misery
16 Jul 03 |  Business


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