Your travel rights in bad weather

Flight cancelled or delayed? Here's what you should know about compensation and rebooking.

20 March 2013

In the recent bad weather I arrived at the airport only to find my flight to the UK was cancelled – what are my rights? T.M.

IF YOU are prevented from boarding a flight within Europe because of cancellation or overbooking, you have certain rights laid down by the EU.

These apply when you are leaving an EU country with any airline or if you are arriving in the EU (or Iceland, Norway or Switzerland) with a travel company registered in the EU.

■ You have the right to reimbursement of meals and drinks “in a reasonable relation to the waiting time”. Hotel stays, and transport to the hotel, are reimbursable if an unplanned stay of a night or more becomes necessary. Passengers should also be offered two free telephone calls, fax messages or emails.
■ You also have the right to be transported to your destination with comparable alternative means, or having your ticket refunded within a seven-day period, both for any unused part of the trip or for other parts that have become useless (eg. a first flight before getting a connecting one that was cancelled).
■ Compensation is available under certain conditions. This is, for flights within the EU, €250 for distances of 1,500km or less in the EU otherwise €400; between an EU and non-EU airport the same applies, but with €400 applying up to 3,500km and then €600 over this. The distance is from the airport where you were unable to board.

However compensation is not available where the opera-tor can prove the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. This could include bad weather like heavy snow.

■ You will also not be entitled to compensation if:
- You were informed of the cancellation two weeks before the scheduled departure date
- Or you were offered an alternative for the same route with a similar schedule to the original one.

What to do?

Firstly, you should go to the desk of your airline and ask the reasons for the cancellation. If possible ask them to note these in writing. You could also photograph the departures board showing the flight was cancelled. If you buy a meal or need an overnight stay, you should keep all your receipts.

Make a written application to the airline for your compensation, bearing in mind they may invoke the “extraordinary circumstances” rule.

A standard complaint form is available to download. Should the reply be unacceptable, you may complain to the relevant national body in the country you were flying from. In the case of France, this is the Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile.
Photo credit: Mike Knell

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