The process of claiming compensation for flight delays is not for the faint-hearted, as two Australian passengers have discovered.
When Brett and Lisa Smith’s flight from Milan to New York was delayed more than 23 hours, they thought that their case for compensation under European Union legislation would be a simple matter. They were wrong.
Under EU 261/2004 compensation rules, passengers whose flight is cancelled or arrives more than three hours late can claim up to EUR 600 (AUD 893) depending on the distance of the flight. The compensation rules apply to flights departing from any EU airport (including Iceland, Norway or Switzerland) or arriving in the EU with an EU carrier.
The couple, booked on flight EK 205 from Milan Malpensa to New York (JFK) in April, 2014 experienced a long ‘creeping delay’. After check-in, they were advised the flight would be delayed by three hours or so. After finally boarding, passengers were told that the engine technical issue could not be fixed after all, and a part needed to be flown in from Dubai the following day.
Passengers were deplaned, returned through immigration, collected their bags, and transported to a hotel. Nearly 24 hours later, the passengers were finally on their way to New York.
The couple lost a day of their holiday, along with the cost of one night’s hotel accommodation, theatre tickets and dinner reservation, all of which was pre-booked, pre-paid, and non-refundable.
Airlines are expected to inform passengers of their right to compensation in the event of lengthy delays. An estimated 11 million people per year in Europe alone are eligible to claim for EUR 6 billion in compensation for flight disruptions under European Union (EC) 261 legislation, according to refund.me, a company that helps air passengers secure compensation from over 350 airlines.
According to a statement by refund.me, the Smiths were not advised that they were eligible for compensation and when Brett Smith later contacted the airline, Emirates rejected the claim.
Smith decided to contact refund.me, an air passenger rights company that advocates for travellers.
According to refund.me, airlines can legally sidestep compensation claims only if a flight disruption is due to extraordinary circumstances beyond an airline’s control; events that “could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”. These include bad weather, security issues, industrial action, and hidden manufacturing defects.
A recent European Court of Justice ruling (Corina van der Lans v KLM) rejected the argument that airlines can avoid compensation pay-outs for aircraft technical failures.
It took two years, countless emails, forms, document submissions, and ultimately an investigation and ruling from the appropriate local ENAC Directorate (ENAC is the Italian civil aviation authority) to secure full compensation of EUR 600 each for the Smiths.
Most passengers either don’t know their rights, or lack the “time, nerve or money” to pursue their cause, says Eve Büchner, founder and chief executive of refund.me.
refund.me claims to helps air passengers from 145 countries in securing compensation from over 350 airlines. It says there is no financial risk for passengers as it operates on a performance fee basis, charging a commission only when the claim is settled successfully, “which happens in 98% of cases”, according to refund.me.