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Delayed and cancelled flights – extraordinary circumstances

Each year millions of European consumers experience flight delays and cancellations. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Each year millions of European consumers experience flight delays and cancellations. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Having a flight delayed or cancelled is not an uncommon situation. Each year millions of European consumers experience flight delays and cancellations. When this happens, the best way to protect yourself is through knowing your legal rights.

As air passengers we should be aware that we are legally entitled to financial compensation if our flight has been delayed for more than three hours or has been cancelled.

This compensation ranges from €125 and €600, depending on the length of our flight and the delay we experience to arrive at our destination. The airline is also legally obliged to offer us to choose between an alternative flight to our destination or a full refund of the price paid for the flight ticket.

The airline must also take good care of us while waiting by offering us refreshments, hotel accommodation if delayed overnight, transport between airport and hotel and two free telephone calls or other means of communication.

Financial compensation is waived when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances

While care and assistance of air passengers is always obligatory on the airline, financial compensation is waived when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances. According to the European Commission’s guidelines, extraordinary circumstances are circumstances that can neither be predicted nor avoided by the airline and are external to the normal activity of the airline.

Some examples of extraordinary circumstances include events like extreme weather conditions, disruption arising from war and political instability of any kind where travel is not recommended, security risks, terror threats and also strikes or industrial actions that are out of the airline’s control.

Technical issues that are a result of the air carrier’s failure to maintain its aircraft are not considered to be extraordinary circumstances. If the airline insists that the technical problem could not have been prevented, in case of a dispute, it is the responsibility of the airline to provide evidence that the facts of the case amounted to an extraordinary situation.

Even though in extraor-dinary situations the financial compensation does not apply, the airline must still offer its passengers a refund of the flight ticket or alternative transport to the final destination at the earliest opportunity, or re-booking at a later date of their choice and subject to seat availability.

When there is the need to lodge a complaint because an airline failed to provide the required care or compensation air passengers are legally entitled to, they first need to make their complaint with the air carrier that operated the flight. If complaining to the airline is not sufficient, then air passengers should contact the national enforcement body in the country where the incident took place.

The role of these bodies is to verify that transport operators are treating all passengers in accordance with the relevant legislation. When a flight is delayed in Malta, air passenger complaints may be addressed to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

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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