PASSENGER'S RIGHTS

AIR TRANSPORT PASSENGERS’ RIGHTS

On February 17th Regulation (EC) n.º 261/2004, of the European Parliament and the Council, of February 11th 2004, entered into force, establishing common rules for compensation and assistance to air transport passengers in case of boarding denial and cancellation or considerable delay in flights.
Air transport passengers’ rights in the European Union were reinforced.

The new rules apply:

  • To passengers who travel from an airport in the territory of a Member-State.
  • To passengers who travel from an airport in a third country to an airport in the territory of a Member-State, as long as the flight is operated by an EU air carrier.
  • If you have a confirmed booking for the flight.

A confirmed booking means that the ticket that was sold by the carrier or authorised travel agency contains an indication of the flight number, date and time with the mention “OK”, “confirmed” or any other adequate indication in the space destined for that purpose in the ticket. That means that the carrier acknowledged and confirms the booking.

But what if there is no ticket?

Nowadays, many companies do not issue conventional tickets. Instead, they send a print of the itinerary or an e-mail that is your travel ticket. If the booking is done by telephone, they may assign a booking number that will be valid as a travel ticket. The passenger must produce a print of his or her itinerary, e-mail receipt or booking number when checking-in (registering) as they contain important information about travel times and dates.

Important note: if the passenger’s ticket is free of charge or has a reduced fee that is not available to the public, directly or indirectly, the carrier is not obliged to compensate the passenger for boarding denial.

Every year, thousands of passengers are victims of overbooking, prolonged delays and flight cancellations.

When they make a booking, passengers must accept the conditions imposed by the airline, cannot negotiate their contracts and seldom know them in fact. When trips do not go as expected, due to boarding denial or flight cancellation, they are dependent on the carrier to proceed with their trip and return home.

The new rules impose a minimum automatic compensation for any damages sustained.
Air transport passengers now have more means to defend their rights.

  • Boarding denial
  • Know your rights in case of:
  • Flight cancellation
  • Prolonged delays
  • Placement in inferior class
  • Organised trips

The sums provided in the concept of compensation or refund of ticket prices may be paid in cash, by bank wire transfer or cheque. These payments may only be done by trip coupons or other services with the passenger’s explicit consent, through a written agreement.
All sums must be paid within at most 7 days.

Know also what rights you are entitled to in case of:

  • Luggage loss, delay or damage
  • Personal damages and death in accidents

Boarding denial – What is it? What rights?

Boarding denial means that the airline refuses to board the passenger in a scheduled flight, although he has a valid ticket, has a confirmed booking and was present for check-in (register) on the time indicated and written by the carrier, tour operator or authorised travel agent. If this time is not provided the passenger must be present for check-in up to 45 minutes before the stated departure time.

Normally, boarding denial occurs when the carrier sells more tickets than exist. This is due to the fact that around 10% of passengers do not confirm their bookings on time, are not present for check-in or simply decide not to travel.

When the passenger purchases an air transport ticket, he signs a contract with the carrier. This contract implies rights, but also duties. Among the passenger’s duties, the following are relevant:

  1. the passenger must confirm his booking;
  2. the passenger must be present for check-in (register) on the stated date and time and show that he has a confirmed booking.

If the passenger fails to so do, the carrier may deny boarding without the obligation of compensating him in any way.

Nevertheless, the carrier may agree with the passenger to board him in another flight, charging a fee or otherwise, if there is availability. This will depend on the commercial practices adopted by each company.

What rights?

When it has reasonable reasons to expect to deny boarding on a flight, the operating airline must, firstly, call on voluntaries who accept to give their seats. Only if there are no voluntaries may boarding be denied.

One must, thus, differentiate two situations:

  1. The passenger voluntarily yields his seat
    If the passenger accepts to yield his seat, benefits may be agreed between the passenger and the carrier. Besides these benefits, the passenger shall also be entitled to assistance by the carrier. Alternatively, he will be entitled to ticket refund within seven days and return flight to the first departing point or rerouting to the final destination (on the first opportunity or at a later date convenient to the passenger, in this case, subject to seat availability).
  2. The passenger does not want to yield his seat

If the number of voluntaries is insufficient to allow boarding, the airline may deny boarding to passengers against their will, compensating them.

In this case, passengers are entitled to minimum compensation, of the following values:

  • 250 € for all flights up to 1500 km;
  • 400 € for all EU flights of more than 1500 km and for all other flights from 1500 to 3500 km;
  • 600 € for all flights not covered by the cases above.

This compensation may be reduced in 50% if the passenger is offered to be rerouted to his final destination in an alternative flight whose arrival time does not exceed that of the original flight in:

  • two hours in flights up to 1500 Km
  • three hours in EU flights of more than 1500 km and in all other flights from 1500 to 3500 km;
  • four hours in flights not covered in the cases above.

Accrued to this minimum compensation, the passenger is entitled:

  • Refund of the ticket price within seven days and free return flight to the first departure point or rerouting to the final destination (on the first opportunity or at a later date convenient to the passenger, in this case, subject to seat availability).
  • To assistance: the carrier must offer the passenger:
    • meals and beverage in a reasonable proportion for the waiting time;
    • lodging in a hotel;
    • transfer between the airport and the place of lodging;
    • the possibility of making, free of charge, two phone calls, telexes, fax messages or e-mail messages.

Note that the operating airline must pay special attention to the needs of people with reduced mobility and their companions, as well as those of unaccompanied children.

“Final destination” is the destination mentioned in the ticket that is shown during check-in (register).
If the passenger is taking more than one aircraft (connection flights) the final destination is the last destination mentioned in his travel ticket.
If the passenger has connection flights that may take off with no difficulties although boarding denial caused some delay, the passenger will not be entitled to a refund for those flights.

Flight cancellation

If the flight is cancelled for reasons attributable to the carrier, such as, for example, due to technical or operational issues, the latter must offer the passenger:

  1. The choice between ticket price refund within seven days (and free flight to the departure point, when justified) or alternative transport to the final destination (on the first opportunity or at a later date convenient to the passenger, in this case, subject to seat availability);
    And, also,
  2. Assistance (meals and beverage in a reasonable proportion for the waiting time; lodging in a hotel; transfer between the airport and the place of lodging; the possibility of making, free of charge, two phone calls, telexes, fax messages or e-mail messages).

The carrier may also have to compensate him in the same way as in case of boarding denial, except if it warns it of the cancellation with sufficient notice.
Hence the passenger shall not be entitled to compensation if:

  1. is informed of the flight cancellation with two weeks’ notice of the departure time;
  2. if, having been informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled departure time, he was offered the alternative of departing up to two hours before and arriving at the final destination up to four hours after the scheduled time;
  3. if, having been informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled departure time, he was offered the alternative of departing up to one hour before and arriving at the final destination up to two hours after the scheduled arrival time;
  4. if the carrier proves that the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances that could not have been reasonably avoided.

It is up to the carrier to prove that it informed the passenger of the cancellation and on what date and conditions.

Prolonged delays

If the carrier expects that a flight will be delayed relative to the scheduled departure time:

  • 2 hours or more, in the case of any flights up to 150 km;
  • 3 hours or more, in the case of EU flights of more than 1500 km and for all other flights from 1500 to 3500 km;
  • 4 hours or more, in the case of flights not covered by the cases above,

the passenger is entitled to immediate assistance.

This assistance will consist of making available:

  • meals and beverage in a reasonable proportion for the waiting time;
  • the possibility of making, free of charge, two phone calls, telexes, fax messages or e-mail messages.

If the departure time of the new flight is on the day after the scheduled date, the passenger shall also be entitled to lodging in a hotel and transportation from the airport to the place of lodging and back.

If the delay is 5 hours or more, the passenger is entitled to a full refund of the ticket price within seven days (and free flight to the departure point, when justified).
Placement in inferior class

If the passenger accepts to be placed in a class inferior to that for which the ticket was purchased, the carrier must refund him, within seven days, as follows:

  • 30% of the ticket price for all flights up to 1500 km;
  • 50% of the ticket price for all EU flights of more than 1500 km, with the exception of flights between Member-States and French overseas departments, and for all other flights from 1500 to 3500 km;
  • 75% of the ticket price for all flights not covered by the cases above, including flights between Member-States and French overseas departments.

Organised trips

Without prejudice of the rights arising from the special legislation applicable to organised trips, the tour operator is obliged to transfer to the passenger any sums that it is paid for boarding denial, flight cancellation, delay or placement in inferior class.

Luggage loss, delay or damage

With the 1999 Montreal Convention and Regulation (EC) n.º 2027/97 of the Council about the responsibility of airlines in case of accident, altered by Regulation (EC) n.º 889/2002 of the European Parliament and the Council, of May 13th 2002, that establishes standardised liability limits for the loss of, damages to or destruction of luggage and for losses caused by delays, in trips operated by EU carriers, the regime of luggage loss, delay or damage, as well as the carrier’s responsibility in case of damages or death by accident, is more clarified.
The rules below apply to any flight operated by an EU airline, in any part of the world, as well as from any State that has ratified the Montreal Convention.
In fact, only a unified regime guarantees simple and clear information for the passenger, allowing him to acknowledge the need (or otherwise) to purchase complementary insurance.
In the case of registered luggage, the carrier is always liable if the loss or damage occurs on board the aircraft or during the period during which the registered luggage is in the custody of the carrier. Notwithstanding, the carrier shall not be held responsible if the damages arose exclusively from a defect, the nature or vice of the luggage itself. In the case of non-registered luggage, including personal objects, the carrier is held responsible if the damage is caused with the fault of the carrier, its workers or agents.
The passenger may request compensation for losses caused by the loss, delay at arrival or damages to luggage up to a sum of 1000 DSE1.
If the passenger carries higher values, for that total to be assumed by the carrier, the passenger must make, at the moment of luggage delivery to the carrier and paying an eventual supplementary fee, a special statement of interest for delivery at the destination.
In the case of luggage delay, the carrier may immediately offer a sum for emergency purchases, but the values thereof may differ from carrier to carrier. If the passenger has to make any expense, he must keep the receipts to attach them to his complaint.

Complaint deadlines:

If the luggage has sustained damages, delay, loss or destruction, the passenger must forward a written complaint to the airline, as quickly as possible. The passenger must always complain to the carrier about the loss of or damages to luggage before leaving the airport. Failure to complain immediately may cause the assumption that he received it in good condition.

There are, however, maximum deadlines to complain, which must be done in writing to the carrier:

  • in case of damages to registered luggage, within 7 days counting from the date of delivery thereof;
  • in the case of delay at arrival of the luggage, within 21 days, counting from the date of delivery thereof;
  • in case of loss there is no set deadline. Note that after 21 days luggage delay must be treated as luggage loss.

Any judicial procedure concerning compensation for damages must be brought within two years counting from the date of arrival of the aircraft or counting from the date on which the aircraft should have arrived.

You may submit the compensation request to the airline with which you signed a contract or to the company operating the flight, if different.

Personal damages and death by accident

Regulation (EC) n.º 2027/97 of the Council about the responsibility of airlines in case of accident, altered by Regulation (EC) n.º 889/2002 of the European Parliament and the Council of May 13th 2002 also establishes some rules about compensation arising from physical damages or death of passengers.

Note that the carrier has the obligation of paying in advance, within 15 days counting from the identification of the person entitled to compensation, to cover the immediate economic needs. In case of death, that advance payment may not be under 16000 DSE.

Information rights

In case of boarding denial, cancellation and delay of more than two hours the carrier must give out to each affected passenger a form with the compensation and assistance rules.
Passengers must also be given a form containing the contact information of the national entity responsible for executing the Regulation. In Portugal, INAC – Instituto National da Aviação Civil.

How to proceed in case of boarding denial, flight cancellation or prolonged delay?

The passenger must demand that the carrier’s representative solve the problem.

If the latter does not fulfil his obligations, the passenger must complain with INAC – Instituto Nacional de Aviação Civil.

These rights apply without prejudice of the passengers’ rights to supplementary compensation. Another that is judicially determined may be added to the latter.

LINKS

job opportunities
company profile