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What does Brexit Mean for your Air Passenger Rights?

By Lorne St. Clair | Last updated on

Brexit passenger rights

On 23rd June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union, reshaping the relationship between Britain and Europe for years to come.

It’s now over 2 years on from the vote and negotiations on still ongoing. Many issues remain undecided, undefined and in many cases downright confusing.

Take air passenger rights for example. Under the European regulation EC 261 passenger rights laws, air passengers are entitled to compensation for 3+ hour delays, cancellations or in instances of denied boarding.

So how will air passenger rights look when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019? Will passengers still be able to claim the millions they’re owed under these laws?

AirHelp data reveals that the flight compensation bill for UK passengers is almost €800 million from the past year (365 days) alone.

Brits travelling abroad next year might find themselves scratching their heads and wondering what their rights are, and will be left even more confused if there is no deal involving airlines in the EU.

With so much speculation around the consequences of a ‘No-deal Brexit’ — if the UK leaves the EU without any agreement on trade, food standards, immigration and air travel — AirHelp wants to help inform passengers about their compensation rights by explaining the pre, during and post-Brexit scenarios.

What are the passenger rights for British citizens before Brexit?

The rights of British air passengers before Brexit are exactly the same as other travellers in the EU.

Under the current EU regulation EC 261, passengers may be entitled to financial compensation of up to €600 per person for any flight delay of 3+ hours, a cancelled flight and in instances of denied boarding.

The conditions for this are that the departure airport is within the EU, or that the flight lands in the EU and is operated by an EU-based carrier.

Furthermore, the reason for the disruption in flight operations must be caused by the airline. Passengers have up to three years to claim financial compensation following a disrupted flight.

You can head over to the AirHelp Know Your Rights pages, which will have all the information you need on your current rights.

Compensation rights for passengers travelling on ‘Cinderella Flights.’

In the event of a No-deal Brexit, air passengers travelling on the evening of the 28th March will be among the first people to find themselves subjected to the confusion of Brexit.

Last month, airlines announced their 2019 flight schedules, which included ‘Cinderella Flights.’

These are journeys that depart before midnight on 28th March while the UK is still an EU member, but will arrive at their destination on 29th March, after Brexit. It’s a tricky concept to get your head around.

If there is no advance on a deal between the UK and EU, and a No-deal Brexit occurs, legally, the ‘Cinderella Flights’ that depart from the UK and land in an EU country could be denied landing.

The AirHelp team want to reassure all passengers that this is the worse-case scenario. We will be the first to inform passengers about any changes to your rights wherever you travel.

What are the passenger rights for British citizens after Brexit?

Just like the complications surrounding ‘Cinderella Flights,’ the rights of air passengers after Brexit remains ambiguous at best, and at worst totally unknown.

Whether or not a withdrawal agreement is reached between now until the Brexit deadline, the government could decide a number of options related to air travel.

To help educate passengers on what their compensation rights could be post-Brexit, AirHelp’s flight disruption experts explains three different scenarios relating to current EU law.

1. If the UK government applies to remain within EC 261 regulation

If all goes according to plan, the UK would apply to remain within the EC 261 jurisdiction. This would be the most desirable option for air passengers.

This means that passengers would still be eligible for compensation of up to €600 for 3+ hour delays, cancellations and in instances of denied boarding.

EC 261 is currently the most robust and extensive air passenger rights regulation in the world, and remaining within its jurisdiction would be the best option available for UK air passengers.

2. If the UK government adopts a modified version of EC 261

According to the Department for Transport There is a possibility that the UK could introduce a modified version of EC 261 after Brexit.

Passengers would still be entitled to claim financial compensation for delays, cancellations or denied boarding, but might receive considerably less than the €600 travellers can usually claim as a maximum compensation amount.

Alternatively, if the UK doesn’t join the current EC 261 jurisdiction, and instead adopts it into national law based on a bilateral agreement, then all regulation until this agreement will be valid, but nothing that comes afterwards.

Over time this could lead to a weaker protection in the UK, as future consumer-friendly interpretations from the European Courts of Justice would not be binding for UK courts anymore.

3. If the UK government repeals EC 261

In a No-deal scenario, UK passengers would immediately lose their protection under EC 261 on 29th March 2019. This specific law would be revoked along with many others across the UK.

Passengers departing on flights from the UK to the EU, or any other country in the world, would not have the right to claim compensation for fights that results in a delay, cancellation or if they were denied boarding. Unless of course the airline they’re flying with is still part of the EU.

Passengers will be in a position of vulnerability against the airlines and will have no rights to claim when they experience disruptions.

However, flights travelling from Europe to the UK, and UK airlines travelling from the EU will be bound by EC 261 laws, giving these passengers the right to claim compensation.

What advice can AirHelp give?

With growing uncertainty for passengers, AirHelp offers expert advice to those who have booked a holiday or flight for a date which straddles or falls after the Brexit date – Friday 29 March 2019.

Christian Nielsen, chief legal officer at AirHelp

“It is almost unimaginable that the UK will be cut off from the EU, especially with Mediterranean tourism so reliant on British travellers.

At present, there are hundreds of laws and legislations from the EU that the UK will choose to adopt, rewrite or ignore, but one thing is for sure, Brexit or no-Brexit, the UK must come to an aviation agreement.

It remains unclear if British air passengers will continue to have the same rights that they currently have when a flight is delayed, cancelled or boarding is denied. Our hope is that the UK government adopts a similar provision to the regulation EC 261, like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland and that the government will not use its power to pass on adopting regulation that helps millions of passengers gain the compensation they are entitled to each year.

Whichever way the law turns, we will continue to work tirelessly to help travellers get the compensation that is rightfully theirs and support them throughout their flight disruptions.”

Passenger advice

1. Educate yourself on Brexit

For those of you travelling into or out of the UK during and post-Brexit, keep in mind that its best to best to educate yourself on your passenger rights before you travel, so that in the event your flight is delayed or cancelled you are fully aware of your options.

2. Regularly check your flight status

There could be a number of flight delays and cancellations during and post-Brexit, if the government has not made an airspace agreement. Check your flight status often, be prepared for longer check-in lines and be aware of delays that may cause extended time spent in the airport.

3. Allow more time to travel through customs

EEA nationals travelling to the UK currently benefit from softer border controls than non-EEA nationals, which means the journey through immigration is swifter. After Brexit, EEA nationals could face the same or similar scrutiny as non EEA-nationals, which may lead to an increase in waiting times at border control.

4. Check your cancellation and refund policy

Package holidays will continue to be covered by regulations which give holidaymakers the right to an alternative holiday, if available, or a refund in the event of changes caused by extraordinary circumstances.

Airlines have begun to prepare for the worst-case scenarios by selling tickets with a caveat which warns that flights from the UK may not be able to operate in the immediate aftermath or the UK exiting the EU. All airlines will have to refund fares if flights are suspended after Brexit is implemented.

5. Do not panic

While Brexit raises many questions for Brits travelling abroad, including their flight compensation rights, there is no need to panic. Although there may be immediate flight delays or cancellations if an airspace agreement has not been made, travellers’ love of Europe will remain and we hope and expect a solution will be found so travel can continue as it has.

Final thoughts

Brexit raises many questions for Brits going abroad and for Europeans travelling to the UK, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty.

For those of you travelling into or out of the UK around the 29th March 2019, AirHelp urge you to educate yourself on your passenger rights before you travel, so that in the event your flight is delayed or cancelled you are fully aware of your options.

Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to a much as €600 in compensation. If your flight was delayed, cancelled, or overbooked within the last three years.


Cover Image Credit:
Chris Lawton