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Last Updated: Friday, 28 March 2008, 15:26 GMT

Q&A: Air passenger rights

Planes at Heathrow airport
Air travellers have rights when flights are disrupted
The first two days at Heathrow's Terminal 5 have proved disastrous for British Airways, BAA and, of course, affected passengers.

About 70 flights due to depart the terminal have been cancelled and many flights have left without check-in baggage.

Indeed for part of the opening day, luggage check-in was suspended completely and passengers with hold baggage were told to rebook on later flights, or collect a refund.

Each year several million air passengers are the victims of sudden cancellations of flights or lengthy delays.

However, rules which came into force in 2005 give air travellers compensation rights.

What if my flight is cancelled?

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

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.

However, airlines do not have to pay compensation if the reason for delays or cancellations is due to "extraordinary circumstances".

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

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 is 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.

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

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.

Do the rules only apply to EU residents?

No. Although the regulations have been created by the EU, you do not 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, are 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 are also be covered by the rules, as long as they are travelling on a European airline.

Are only scheduled flights covered by the compensation scheme?

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, are also covered.

What happens if my flight is overbooked?

Compensation must be paid immediately.

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.

Plane delay chart

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

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
Airline charge 'big step forward'
20 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Should airlines pay out for delays?
17 Feb 05 |  Have Your Say
Air passenger rights given boost
16 Feb 05 |  Business

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