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Airline Laws and Differences Between the US and the EU

AuthorAda Kozłowska

Okay, so you’re traveling by plane and you’ve entrusted your airline with your belongings, time and money. You have paid them to get you and your belongings safely from point A to point B. But, what happens when life intervenes and your flight has been delayed, or dare we even say it, cancelled?

Most think that they have no rights and must just grin and bear it, but that’s where you’re wrong. In this post we’ll talk about the different scenarios travelers face every day and what your airline owes you when plans don’t go exactly as planned for both US flights and EU flights.

When flying in and out of the United States, a flight that you are scheduled for may be delayed for any number of reasons. For instance, if there are poor weather conditions or perhaps even mechanical issues with the aircraft, you can be delayed of any number of minutes or even hours.

According the airlines, in most cases delays of this capacity should not inflict hardship on the traveller, but as we all know most of the time, this is not true. When delays lead to a missed connection or needing an unexpected overnight stay in an airport, or many other significant inconveniences occur, there is something you can do about it.  

Airlines that fly in the US are actually not legally obligated to provide any compensation for a delayed passenger for weather conditions or mechanical issues, however they are required to compensate passengers who have a reservation but are denied boarding, also known as getting involuntarily bumped from the flight.

Did you know that US airlines are allowed to overbook flights to allow for “no-show” passengers? Well, it’s true, but if you are involuntarily bumped, the airline is required to request for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation – which we all know rarely works out. So, if no kind soul is looking to give your their seat, you should know the following: there is no compensation if alternative transportation gets you to your destination within an hour of your original scheduled arrival.

For domestic US flights, there are no US federal regulations that require any compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight. However, a lot of airlines do have policies for compensating passengers whose flights are delayed or even cancelled. A lot of policies, which airlines offer only include free or discounted meals or in worst-case scenarios, sleeping accommodations. In best-case scenarios, some airlines will arrange a new flight for you.

However, for non-domesticated US flights the rule for a delayed or cancelled flight depends on the rules of the country that you are flying in or out of.

In the European Union, airlines are required to compensate passengers who are bumped, as well as passengers who experience many types of delays and flight cancellations. This is very different from what we discussed with regards to US rules and regulations. Although when flying in and out of the EU, you don’t have to be a European citizen to be covered under the following laws. If you’re a US citizen or from any other country you will be covered while flying in and out of Europe by the European Union laws and regulations.

The EU is very good with providing compensation for flight cancellations and delays. With cases involving a delay or cancellation of a EU flight, passengers are entitled to compensation under European Parliament Regulation (EC) 261/2004.

Compensation for such issues can be difficult to follow, however here are some key points. When your flight is delayed for two hours or more, passengers are to be offered free meals, plus accessibility to free calls or any other form of communication necessary to help them through the challenging situation.

In the case that your departure has deferred until the next day, you should be offered sleeping accommodations and transportation to and from said accommodations.

If your delay is five hours or even longer (yikes), you are entitled to full reimbursement of the cost of the ticket. Sometimes you are also entitled to the changes you may need for your return flight now as well.

Most unlike in the US, if you’re bumped off a flight and your flight was departing from an EU country, or if you were on an airline registered in the EU and your flight departed outside the EU for a destination within the EU, you have a lot of rights.  

First off, reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or a return flight to the first point of departure or re-routing to the final destination should all be handled by the airline. Also, much like the US, meals, sleeping accommodation, and transport between the airport and place of accommodation are all to be compensated.

In the EU, they have a different form of deciding how much compensation you are entitled to. Depending on how far your flight should have been traveling, you will be entitled to the following monetary compensation:   

  • For flights 1,500 kilometers or less are 250 euros – Example: Paris-London
  • Flights within the European union or between 1,500km and 3,500km are eligible for 400 euros. Example Berlin-Barcelona 
  • All other flights exceeding said distances are entitled to up to 600 euros. Example: New York-Paris

No matter where you’re flying to, make an effort to become familiar both with the airline you’re using should provide in the way of compensation, by law. Airline’s policies on compensating passengers, and how you may be able to negotiate will all come from knowing your rights with that particular airline, to begin with. And for the rest, you have us.

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