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Delayed flight? Here are your rights

As summer is gradually approaching airports start getting busier, with tight-scheduled flights. During these busy months there is a higher risk of delayed flights and we may end up stranded for long hours at the airport. Such incidents may not only disrupt a carefully planned out holiday but can be a nerve-racking experience, especially if we have no clue how the law protects us in such circumstances.

If, during our journey, our booked flight suffers a delay that exceeds two hours we should be aware that we have specific legal rights provided to us through the Air Passenger Rights Regulations. Firstly, the airline operating our flight is obliged to provide us with care and assistance until we board our flight. Depending on the length of the delay, the airline is obliged to provide all passengers with adequate food and refreshments, two free telephone calls and, if the flight is postponed to the following day, accommodation must be provided too with transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.

Should the airline fail to provide us with such assistance and due to this we end up paying for these basic needs, upon presentation of receipts we may request the airline to reimburse us for these expenses. It is very important that our request is reasonable and appropriate.

When the expected delay is more than five hours long, then the airline should offer us a choice between cancelling the flight and getting a full reimbursement of the ticket paid or re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to our final destination at the earliest opportunity or re-routing at a later date. Should we opt to cancel our flight and are in the middle of our journey, we are also entitled to be flown back to the first point of departure at no extra cost.

As passengers we also have the right to monetary compensation if we reach our final destination with a delay of three hours or more – unless the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which the airline could not avoid even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

The financial compensation also applies if due to a delay of the first flight we end up missing a connecting flight and arrive at our final destination with a delay of more than three hours – as long as the flights are within the EU or outside the EU on a flight originating from an EU country. In cases of delayed flights that depart from a non-EU country to an EU destination, only passengers of flights operated by EU carriers are entitled to compensation.

The amount of compensation depends on the length of the flight and the arrival time at the final destination. For instance, if the delayed flight is 1,500km or less, the compensation amounts to €250. A €400 compensation applies to flights that are more than 1,500km within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500km. A compensation of €600 applies to flights longer than 3,500km. If, however, the air-carrier offers re-routing and we reach our final destination within a specific time limit that does not exceed two, three or four hours, depending on the length of the flight, the compensation may be reduced by half.

The airline is not liable to provide compensation when it manages to provide its passengers with another flight that takes them to their destination at the same time of their original flight.

We must remember that it is our responsibility to check in at the time stipulated on the flight ticket and to respect boarding time. If we miss our flight because of a late check-in or boarding, we are not entitled to compensation.

To claim compensation we must lodge a complaint with the airline using the EU-wide air passenger rights complaint form and if we do not receive a positive reply from the airline within six weeks, we can then lodge a complaint with the enforcement body where the incident took place. If the original delay occurred at Malta’s International Airport, air passengers may seek assistance from the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

For more information on air passenger rights, email airpassengerrights.mccaa@mccaa.org.mt.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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