What Are Your Consumer Rights With Air Travel?

As an airline passenger, you are covered by EU law if your flight is cancelled or delayed, or if you are not permitted to board the plane after you’ve checked in. You may be entitled to re-routing, refunds and, in some cases, compensation.

This is provided for by EU Regulation 261/2004, which applies to all passengers departing from airports within the EU and EEA, and to all passengers departing from countries that are not part of the EU or EEA, as long as those flights

  • arrive into EU/EEA airports; and
  • are operated by EU/EEA airlines (unless they have already received compensation or assistance in that third country)

The law does not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare which is not available to the general public. It also will not apply to passengers who:

  • do not have a confirmed reservation
  • do not have the correct travel documentation for their journey e.g. visas etc
  • do not arrive at the boarding gate in good time for their flight
  • pose safety or security concerns for the airline

To jump to specific information on each eventuality, click below:

Weather Events & Travel Insurance

Separate to your entitlements under EU Law, AA Travel Insurance also includes cover for events such as missed or delayed departure or holiday abandonment. This may be particularly important to know during times of  adverse weather, but what exactly does your travel insurance cover?

  • Missed Departure – if you can’t get to the airport on time for your flight
  • Holiday Abandonment – if your flights are cancelled or delayed by more than 24 hrs as a result of adverse weather
  • Delayed Departure – if your flights are delayed by more than 12 hrs

It’s worth noting that there are some conditions to your cover entitlements so it’s important to check your travel insurance policy booklet if your plans are affected by a weather event.

What If My Flight Is Cancelled?

Where your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a choice of:

  • A refund of the cost of your ticket within 7 days; or
  • Re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
  • Re-routing at a later date at your convenience, subject to availability of seats

There are several circumstances where no compensation is payable, for example, when the cancellation is due to weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks or industrial action. In other words, if the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

You will also not be entitled to compensation if:

  • You have received at least 2 weeks’ notice of the cancellation; or
  • You have received between 2 weeks and 7 days’ notice but you have been offered an alternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before your original departure time and arriving at your final destination less than 4 hours after your original scheduled time of arrival; or
  • You have received less than 7 days’ notice but you have been offered an alternative flight departing no more than 1 hour before your original departure time and arriving at your final destination less than 2 hours after your original scheduled time of arrival.

However, if none of the above applies, then you will be entitled to compensation, which is calculated  as per the tables below:

Compensation when getting a refund
Type of flight Compensation
Flights of 1,500 km or less €250
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
€400
All other flights €600

 

Compensation when re-routed
Type of flight Delay Compensation
Flights of 1500km or less 2 hours or less €125
Flights of 1500km or less more than 2 hours €250
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
3 hours or less €200
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
more than 3 hours €400
All other flights 4 hours or less €300
All other flights more than 4 hours €600

Upgrading and downgrading seats

If you are offered a seat in a higher class than your original booking, the airline can’t charge you extra. However, if you agree to be placed in a lower class than on your original booking you are entitled to money back, calculated as follows:

  • 30% of the original ticket price for flights of 1,500 km or less
  • 50% of the original ticket price for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  • 75% of the original price for all flights greater than 3,500 km


Delayed Flights

Whether a delayed flight comes within the terms of the regulation depends upon the distance of the route involved and the length of the delay. The following flights are covered by the regulation:

  • Delays of 2 hours or more in the case of flights of 1500 km or less
  • Delays of 3 hours or more in the case of all flights within the EU of more than 1500 km, and of all other flights between 1500 and 3500 km
  • Delays of 4 hours or more in the case of all other flights

If your flight is covered, free meals and refreshments must be offered, plus a free hotel room where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport.

Refund

If the flight is delayed by at least 5 hours, you must be offered a refund of your ticket instead of flying. When relevant, it also includes a return flight to your first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity.

Compensation

As before, if the airline can prove that the delay was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, then no compensation is payable.

There’s actually no mention in the regulation of compensation in the case of delays, however in 2009 the European Court of Justice ruled that compensation similar to that paid for cancelled flights should be payable where the delay exceeds 3 hours. This right was then upheld in further cases in 2012. Compensation is calculated as per the table shown above.

Denied Boarding

This can arise due to the very common practice of overbooking – where airlines insure against no-shows by deliberately selling more seats on a flight than the number available. Inevitably, this leads to some cases where more passengers have arrived and checked in for their flight than can be accommodated on it.

Initially, the airline will ask for volunteers to skip this flight in return for agreed benefits and a choice of:

  • Refund of the cost of their ticket within 7 days if not wishing to travel or
  • Re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity or
  • Re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats

If there are not enough volunteers, the airline is entitled to refuse to accommodate some passengers. In this case, they are obliged to compensate them and offer a choice of:

  • Refund of the cost of their ticket within 7 days if not wishing to travel; or
  • Re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
  • Re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats

The amount of compensation due is calculated in the same way as for cancellations and delays (see tables above), and you must also be looked after with free meals, refreshments, accommodation and transport between the hotel and the airport.

Package Travel

If you are on a package tour (that is, flight and accommodation included), then any claims for compensation should be addressed to the airline – not the travel agent or tour operator, who may be willing to help, but who are under no obligation to obtain the compensation on your behalf.

Enforcing Your Rights

If you have a complaint about the assistance and compensation you have received for cancelled or delayed flights or being denied boarding, you must begin by contacting your airline directly.

If you are not satisfied, your next step is to make a complaint to the appropriate national enforcement body – there is a list here under Ask national administrations.

Each member state is responsible for departures from its own airports and arrivals into its airports from non-EU countries on an EU-based airline. If you have a complaint about a flight returning to Ireland from within the EU, you need to contact the national enforcement body in the EU state your flight departed from.

e.g. if your complaint is about a flight:

  • from Ireland to France – contact the Irish authority
  • from France to Ireland – contact the French authority
  • from Ireland to USA on Aer Lingus – contact the Irish authority
  • from Ireland to USA on American Airlines – contact the Irish authority
  • from USA to Ireland on Aer Lingus – contact the Irish authority
  • from USA to Ireland on American Airlines – contact the American authority

The Irish authority is the Commission for Aviation Regulation. It deals with complaints arising from flights departing from Irish airports or those arriving at an Irish airport from outside the EU/EEA on an EU/EEA airline. Information on how to make a complaint to the Regulator is available on its website. It also has information on your rights on flightrights.ie.

Don’t forget to buy your AA Travel Insurance before you travel! We explain the different options here, and you can choose the option that’s right for you by heading to the AA Travel Insurance website.