Aiming for perfection: 14 rules for air passenger rights

Aiming for perfection: 14 rules for air passenger rights

By Alice Mariscotti・Last updated on 20 June 2023

Here at AirHelp, we believe that travel makes the world a better place. And that good passenger rights make travel even better. Strong passenger rights give customers more confidence, give clarity to airlines, and ultimately create a stronger travel industry.

After 10 years, checking 12 million flights, and winning compensation for 1.5 million passengers,  we understand the benefits and impacts various passenger rights have on travelers. We want to share that knowledge, and explain the principles all passenger rights should follow, if they are to truly assist travelers.

Principles at the core of perfect air passenger rights

  1. Respect passengers
    The goal of passenger rights is to ensure that airlines treat their passengers with care and dignity. They set the standard of fair treatment throughout the airline’s service — including the crucial times when flights get delayed, canceled, or otherwise disrupted.

  2. Keep it simple
    If passengers can’t understand their rights, they can’t use them.

    • The wording must be clear, and free of technical terms and legal jargon. 

    • Regulations must be succinct. Every additional exception or exclusion adds confusion for passengers, who simply want to know what assistance they will get.

  3. Easy access to information
    If passengers don’t know they have rights, they can’t use them. 

    • Airlines must be required to inform passengers of their rights, particularly at moments of disruption. 

    • They must maintain an independent central information portal providing clear explanations.

    • Governments and airlines should work with specialist companies like AirHelp who provide credibility and impartiality by offering access to independent flight data and perspective.

  4. Enforce them!
    Too many passenger rights are ineffective simply because they are not enforced. Airlines ignore passengers, or reject claims for the wrong reasons.

    • Require airlines to respond to passengers promptly. 

    • Ensure that passengers have an accessible route to enforce a claim.

    • Protect passengers’ freedom to choose how to pursue their claim.

    Specific rules for perfect air passenger rights

  5. Set compensation amounts
    Establish the compensation amounts within the law. 

    • Don’t leave it for airlines to debate what is a fair compensation when they have caused a disruption. 

    • US$400 is the minimum level that functions as a penalty to airlines, and a real help to passengers facing disruption. But the amount should rise for longer flights and more severe disruptions. 

    • Don’t link the amount to the ticket price. The consequences of a flight delay or cancellation is the same to a passenger, no matter how much they paid for their ticket. 

  6. Consider inflation

    Amounts stated in law should be regularly reviewed and updated in line with inflation, so that passengers continue to receive adequate compensation. 

  7. No “get out” clauses
    If an airline is responsible for a disruption, it must pay — no exceptions. 

    • Use an established precedent such as extraordinary circumstances to differentiate disruptions within an airline's control (staff shortages, technical faults), from those that aren’t (war, weather), which the airline isn’t liable for. 

  8. Airlines bear the burden of proof

    Passengers simply can’t prove what was going on behind the scenes.
    Airlines must prove they weren’t at fault and be required to share transparent, informative updates with passengers — including the cause of a disruption.

  9. Offer refunds 

    Let passengers choose the best way to continue their journey — or not.

    The airline is responsible for transporting passengers to their final destination as soon as possible. But passengers must also be offered a full refund as an alternative choice, as any disruption can remove their purpose for traveling.

  10. Offer competitor’s flights

    If air passenger rights are to minimize the impact of flight disruption to passengers, airlines must be required to book passengers on to competitors’ flights where they don’t have availability on their own network within 24 hours.

  11. Set standards of care

    When flights are disrupted, passengers require meals, drink, accommodation (and transport to it). Airlines must start to provide this assistance after 2 hours of delay. The exact entitlements, and when they kick in, must be stated, so that passengers have the reassurance they need.

  12. Time for rebooking

    Notification periods must reflect real-world travel, with compensation where they don’t. As cancellations incur major disruption, where passengers frequently have to reschedule their entire vacation, passengers should be entitled to compensation when flights are canceled 8 weeks before departure or less. 

  13. Cover luggage
    Delayed, lost, or damaged luggage is a major inconvenience to passengers. Airlines must be held responsible for luggage in their care, especially when many passengers today pay extra for their luggage transportation. 

  14. Adequate time to claim

    There must be an adequate time after a flight to submit a claim, so passengers don’t miss a window through no fault of their own. One year is the absolute minimum, but given that up to 85% of passengers currently don’t know their rights, 3-5 years is preferable. 

Definitions are important. 
Here are ours:

Flight delay: A flight that arrives at its destination 15 minutes later than scheduled is considered delayed.

Passengers must be compensated for severe delays. That is passengers arriving at their destination 3 or more hours later than scheduled. 

Flight cancellation: A flight where tickets are sold, but the airline decides not to operate. 

Passengers must be compensated for last-minute cancellations. That is, flights canceled 8 weeks or less before they’re due to depart. 

Flight diversion: A flight that lands at a different destination than scheduled.
Passengers must be compensated if they arrive at their final destination 3 or more hours later than scheduled.

Denied boarding: When the airline prevents a passenger from boarding their flight.
Passengers must be compensated for denied boardings where the airline is at fault. Passengers are not owed compensation if they arrive late, don't have required documentation, or give the airline any other cause to deny boarding.

Overbooking: When an airline sells more tickets for a flight than there are seats, and consequently must deny boarding to some passengers.
Affected passengers must be compensated if they are denied boarding due to overbooking.

Schedule changes: When the airline changes the departure and/or arrival time of a flight from what it was when the passenger bought their ticket. 

Passengers must be compensated for severe last-minute schedule changes. That is, changes that would depart 3 or more hours earlier or arrive 3 or more hours later than originally scheduled, and where the passenger is informed less than 8 weeks before the flight is due to depart. 

Missed connections: When a passenger has been booked on connecting flights to their destination, but doesn’t make the connection as a result of disruption.
Passengers must be compensated if they arrive at their final destination 3 or more hours later than scheduled.

Want to know more? Read about the rights you currently have around the world

Did you also know that you can claim compensation for delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights from up to 3 years ago? AirHelp is here to help you check if your flight is eligible — it’s quick, easy, and totally risk-free! 

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AirHelp is a part of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) whose mission is to promote and protect passengers’ rights.


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