Was Your EU Flight Canceled? The Airline May Owe You Money
The European Union has some strong rights for passengers, including compensation of up to €600 for a delayed or canceled flight. Make sure you file a claim and get what you deserve.
Q: I purchased three round-trip, direct tickets (for my husband, six-year-old daughter, and myself) on SAS from Dulles to Copenhagen. Our trip over was perfect. Our return, however, was anything but. We arrived at the airport to learn that our flight was canceled. We immediately got in the ticket line to rebook our flight home. When we reached the counter, after 45 minutes and only third in line (there were 100 people behind us), the agent gave us no reason why the flight was canceled.
The only option offered to us was an itinerary leaving the next day, which required travel to two other countries, on three flights, before we reached home. I told the agent this was unacceptable. I was traveling with a small child and I was not going to drag her around the world to get home. Any of the fights could have been canceled, leaving us to spend the night in one of the airports. After a fair amount of back and forth, she finally relented and told me that in two days they had an opening on a direct flight.
When we returned home, I filed a complaint on the SAS website, but after six weeks the only reply has been an acknowledgement that it was received. I am due a refund of the $120 we paid for assigned seats on the original flight, additional expenses incurred as a result of the delay, and €600 per person according to the EU’s passenger rights for canceled flights.
Can you help me get through to SAS? —Janne E., Richmond, VA
A: In the European Union, passengers have significant rights with regard to delayed and canceled flights. If you arrive at your destination more than three hours late and the delay was not due to “extraordinary circumstances,” among other basic care such as food and lodging, you are due up to €600 in compensation. Yes, that’s €600, currently about $683.
Since 2005, when the regulation went into effect, airlines have claimed that nearly all technical problems are extraordinary circumstances and have refused to pay compensation. But they can’t do that anymore; a case that ran through the appeals process in the United Kingdom, Jet2.com v Huzar,was finalized on October 31, 2014. The Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear a final appeal and an earlier ruling would stand. In that ruling, His Honour Judge Platts found that technical problems due to wear and tear are not considered an extraordinary circumstance. One of his statements:
“Air carriers have to encounter and deal with such circumstances as part of running an airline just as the owner of a car has to encounter and deal with unexpected and unforeseen breakdowns of his car.”
I appreciate the analogy. It keeps things simple. So how does the judge’s ruling apply to Janne’s claim? It turns out she received a reply from SAS the same day we contacted it. (I’d like to claim credit for such speedy work, but it appears the response was already in process.) The airline stated that the flight was canceled due to a technical fault. Luckily, it owned up to its obligation and offered a choice of either €600 per person in cash or €1200 in future travel credits. It also agreed to refund the fee for preferred seats and asked her to provide receipts for expenses.
I say “luckily” because some airlines won’t respond to claims that involve compensation related to EU delays and cancellations. Another reader wrote to us about a delay involving TAP Portugal, which hadn’t replied to her complaint after three months. I tried for six months on her behalf, including a Twitter exchange with the airline that led to phone conversations, but never received any substantive information. In the end, I suggested she try using a company that specializes in airline compensation recovery, like AirHelp, FlightRight, or TRS Travelright, which take a percentage of funds recovered.
One other important bit of information: You have six years to file a claim. If you experienced a flight delay or cancellation in the last six years, ask yourself these questions: Did the flight originate in the EU or arrive in the EU on an EU carrier (or one from Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland)? Was the delay not due to extraordinary circumstances, such as bad weather, a labor strike, or volcano eruption? Do you still have your flight information? If the answer is “yes” to all three questions, I’d suggest you file a claim.
Also keep in mind that in the United States, while airlines are required to pay compensation for denied boarding, like most other non-EU countries, they don’t have to pay compensation for delays or cancellations. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I agree with the notion that airlines should pay when there is a technical problem. I worry about safety—that it gives airlines an incentive to fly when they should keep a plane on the ground. But for now, no matter what you or I think of the EU regulations, don’t leave the money on the tray table. Chances are you suffered an uncompensated indignity at the whim of some carrier in the past. Consider it industry payback.