As we approach the festive season, thousands of passengers will be hoping their travel plans do not get disrupted like the scenes we saw in Summer 2023 when thousands of passengers across the UK were delayed and stranded by problems with the air traffic control system.
When disruptions occur, where should consumers turn for help, and what can they expect airlines to do?
- Is there a set of rules that govern how airlines should assist their customers?
Passengers' rights on flights from UK airports and EU airports are governed by rules known as EC261, which provide important protections to passengers at all times.
Overall, airlines should keep their passengers well informed about the situation, provide them with food and accommodation as they wait, and do whatever they can to get them to their destinations as soon as possible.
- Some reports stated that the air traffic control problems were classified as 'extraordinary circumstances'.
A cash compensation is available under EC261 in some circumstances, but not when sudden cancellations or long delays are a result of 'extraordinary circumstances' which is not great news for passengers.
- So what does this mean for consumers?
Airlines have a duty of care to provide assistance to passengers who are delayed or whose flights have been cancelled, regardless of the cause.
Providing passengers with information on their rights as well as care and assistance means providing meals, making it possible for travellers to communicate with each other, and providing hotel accommodation – including transfers to and from hotels – for overnight delays are all part of this requirement.
- If a flight has been delayed by hours and a passenger is sitting at the airport, what should the airline be doing to help?
A flight passenger's right to eat and, if necessary, sleep until the flight leaves should not be affected by the cause of the delay.
Depending on the length of the flight, airlines must help after two hours on short flights up to 1,500 km, after three hours on flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km, and after four hours on long flights.
- What are passenger's flight options?
The airline must get passengers to their destinations as soon as possible, regardless of whether or not the disruption was caused by "extraordinary circumstances."
According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in the event of a flight cancellation, passengers must have the choice of reclaiming their funds, rerouting their flight at a later date, or receiving a full refund.
Rerouting on any airline is possible, not just the original airline. For example, if a customer's original booking is with Easyjet but Ryanair gets them back earlier, then Easyjet should put the customer on the Ryanair flight.
It is the airline's responsibility to clearly explain these options to passengers.
Airlines may also offer passengers incentives for flying at a later date, for example by providing vouchers of greater value.
The airline must also cover reasonable onward travel expenses if the passenger arrives at a different airport due to rerouting.
If you have experienced a flight delay that you would like to make a claim for, why not post your case on LawBid to find experienced legal professionals who can help you make a flight delay claim.