EU rule 261 means big compensation for transatlantic fliers
For years, Travelers United has been educating America’s flying public about the European Union (EU) rules. We have focused especially on the rules regarding international flight delays across the Atlantic. Still, most American flyers do not know how they are protected by EU air passenger delay compensation. They can get compensation from airlines when flights are delayed by as much as three hours under EU rule 261.
A survey by airhelp.com found that 92 percent of U.S. citizens do not know their air passenger rights. Globally, air travelers are missing out on $6 billion a year in EU air passenger delay compensation. Despite requirements of EU law EC rule 261, airlines are still not making passengers aware of their rights. Seventy-five percent of U.S. air travelers feel uninformed by the airlines.
AirHelp conducted the survey by contacting more than 2,000 people across the United States. It is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research on air passenger rights. The survey findings suggest that there is still a long way to go before air passengers are fully aware of their rights.
International flight delay compensation is unknown to most US travelers. It is covered under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty, and by Europen Union rules (EU air passenger delay compensation rules). A partner organization has taken the DOT to court to require that these international delay compensation rules get more visibility for US travelers.
US airline passengers do not know their EU rights or how to file a claim
One in four U.S. air passengers thought they were eligible to receive up to $700 in compensation. However, less than 25 percent of those who were on a disrupted flight actually filed a claim.
Clearly, air passenger rights regulation EC rule 261, a 16-year-old law, is not widely understood in the US. This rule also covers U.S. citizens traveling to and from Europe. Billions of dollars in airline compensation are never claimed by passengers.
According to this survey, the three main reasons passengers did not file for compensation were:
— Passengers are not aware of their rights (63 percent);
— they did not think that they were eligible for compensation (47 percent);
— they did not know how to file a claim (42 percent).
Despite the protection that EC 261 provides for air travelers, thousands of air passengers miss out on compensation. Most never file a claim out of ignorance. Every year, almost 13 million passengers leave over $6 billion in the hands of the airlines that owe them compensation following unpleasant flight disruptions.
There is a real need for continued consumer advocacy work and education to increase awareness and understanding of air passenger rights. Here is the basic outline of the EU rule 261.
Flight disruptions: These are the passengers’ rights under EU rule 261
For delayed or canceled flights, and in instances of denied boarding, passengers may be entitled to financial compensation. This compensation can be as much as up to about $700 per person in certain circumstances. The conditions for this stipulate that the departure airport must be within the EU. Or, the airline carrier must be landing in the EU and headquartered in the EU. Compensation may be claimed within three years of the disrupted flight.
The reason for the disruption must be caused by the airline. Situations deemed as ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ such as unannounced strikes, storms, or medical emergencies, mean that the operating airline is exempt from the obligation to compensate passengers. In other words, ‘extraordinary circumstances’ do not qualify for delayed-flight compensation.
Financial Compensation under EU Rule 261
This rule applies to all flights departing from the European Union (EU) for the US and for all European airline flights departing from the US for the EU. That means that if a traveler flies on American Airlines, United Airlines, or Delta Air Lines, from the US to Europe, and their flight is delayed for three hours or more, the passengers will not receive compensation. If the passengers were flying on an airline such as British Airways, Iberia, KLM/Air France, or Lufthansa they would be elegible for the Euros 600 compensation for the three-hour delay. All flights departing from the EU are covered under Rule 261.
If a flight is canceled or arrives more than 3 hours late on arrival at the final destination stated on your ticket, you may be entitled to compensation of €250 – 600, depending on the distance of the flight:
Within the EU
— 1,500 km or less – €250
— over 1,500 km – €400
Between EU airport and non-EU airport
— 1,500 km or less – €250
— 1,500 – 3,500 km – €400
— more than 3,500 km – €600
So, a delayed flight of more than three hours from the EU to the US, or vice versa, will mean 600 EUR ($738) in compensation.
There are some exemptions. However, the compensation is steady and getting paid is almost like clockwork once a passenger knows the rule and the process, or they can use a site like AirHelp.com.
Passengers can use an AirHelp app
In early 2018, AirHelp launched a brand new tool to help travelers sift through eligible flights. The app concentrates specifically on flights that are eligible for compensation. With permission, the tool can check up to three years prior by simply connecting the traveler’s inbox to AirHelp.com.
With AirHelp’s secure app, affected passengers can also check flight eligibility while at the airport. The app will analyze if a flight problem qualifies for compensation and will then register a claim within a few seconds. The AirHelp app is free and is available at the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Air passenger rights are of the utmost importance but are consistently ignored by Congress and other political leaders. Even the Department of Transportation does not take effective action to educate passengers. These US/EU delay rules and other Montreal Convention rules for international flight issues are not included in DOT materials.
Travelers United is grateful to AirHelp for holding airlines accountable and helping consumers around the world get the compensation they deserve, while also working tirelessly together with us to inform consumers about their rights.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.