Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Your flight has been cancelled - what can you claim back from the airlines?

Memo on Volcanic Ash Crisis published by the European Commission - clear answers as to rights of passengers stranded due to volcanic ash

The European Commission published a short memo in a reply to the volcanic ash crisis, trying to facilitate answers to the frequently asked questions. The first part of the memo concerns the role of the European Commission in solving the crisis and is definitely less relevant from the consumer point of view (it might have been different if the EC had power to clear up the skies, but it does not, so there). The second part concerns the rights of the stranded passengers. I have heard lots of doubts even amongst lawyers in the past few days as to what rights the consumers may make use of taking into account that the non-performance on the side of the airlines was clearly caused by exceptional circumstances or even: 'the power of God'.

The answer is straight-forward:
1. You have the right to either reimbursement or re-routing
2. You have the right to information - there is an obligation for airlines to inform you about rights and flight schedules
3. You have the right to care- that means food, drinks, accommodation as appropriate

The choice between reimbursement and re-routing depends on the consumer.

From the momemt of choosing reimbursement, the consumer ceases all his other rights towards the airlines - they are not supposed to provide refreshments, accommodation, etc. since they have already performed the contract (by paying back the money instead of providing a flight). The reimbursement covers the whole price the consumer paid (included all taxes and charges).

If the consumer chooses re-routing the airlines might pay for different means of transportation, until that time the consumer has a right to accommodation etc. on the cost of the airline. The consumer needs to wait then until the airline provides for re-routing. In case the consumer chooses to arrange transportation on his own, to get back home quickly, he may still claim reimbursement of the ticket price since the choice between these two measures is his.

The only right that the consumer loses is his right to compensation of the incovenience caused by the delays, etc. All other rights from the Regulation on Air Passengers Rights (EC Regulation 261/2004) still apply.

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