The current chaos following the six-day shutdown of almost all European airspace has thrown the issue of passengers’ rights firmly into the spotlight – particularly with the fact that so many airlines are refusing to take any responsibility for assisting stranded passengers.
With my son being among those stranded (he was stuck in England, trying to get home to Dubai) I have been active in understanding this in order to help him, and so post this in the hope that it will help others in a similar predicament due to the massive problems caused following the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.
The governing regulation behind all this is one entitled Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council. The Regulation is available in full from various sources on the web, while this Wikipedia entry has a good summary, and this BBC post has one too.
The summary bottom line is:
- All passengers stranded in Europe are entitled to their choice of: rerouting to another airport for onward flight to their destination (difficult for this in Europe at present); accommodation, refreshments/meals and communication services (basically 2 calls) while they are stranded (the most applicable option); or a refund of their ticket (not sure why they would want this as they generally want to get home).
- This is regardless of the nationality of the airline on which the passenger is flying, as the European rules apply to the airlines while they are operating in Europe.
- All passengers stranded outside Europe with tickets to a European destination on a European airline are entitled to the same choices detailed above.
- The key points here are firstly that the carrier must be a European airline (if on a code-share flight, the ticket must have been issued by one of the European airlines on that code-share), and secondly that the destination must be a European one.
- Unfortunately, if you are stranded outside Europe with a non-European airline, they are not obliged to provide this assistance.
Many airlines are claiming that as the volcanic eruption is an “Act of God” (or “Force Majeure”) they are absolved from any responsibility for such assistance and are turning passengers away. This is patently untrue as the regulation only makes provision in such circumstances for airlines to be excused from paying additional (cash) compensation that they are normally liable for in the event of delays. They are still required to accommodate, feed and provide communications for stranded passengers, regardless of the reason.
Other airlines, such as Qatar Airways (on which my son is booked – so much for the “5 Star Service” they like to advertise!), are saying that they are not required to provide any assistance as they are foreign-owned. Again, this is simply not true. Although they are not obliged to provide assistance for those passengers stranded outside Europe, they are absolutely obliged to do so for the passengers stranded in Europe.
Should your airline have refused you compensation at the time, you should retain all receipts for accommodation, food, etc., while you have been delayed and lodge a claim with the airline on your return home.
I hope this will help clear up the confusion surrounding this issue and enable people to claim appropriate assistance.
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