EU261 is supposed to provide compensation to passengers for flight cancellations and extreme delays. Instead these passengers delayed by Finnair wound up with a judgment against them after the company they used to pursue their claims went bankrupt and the carrier pursued reimbursement of its legal expenses.
Europe has strong airline consumer protection rules, at least in theory. In practice even when an airline owes you money for a delay, it’s tough to collect. We’ve seen customers literally send bailiffs to airline offices to collect and airlines even cancel flights to avoid having their aircraft impounded over $300.
But I’ve never seen a consumer get stuck by an airline like this – where the airline’s flight is delayed, the customer seeks compensation, and it’s the customers that wind up owing the airline money, in a story first revealed by Australian Frequent Flyer.
oneworld airline Finnair launched its Airbus A350 and had several delays early on as a result of manufacturing defects in the plane. When customers ought compensation for their delays, the airline claimed nothing was owed, because a manufacturing defect isn’t a mere maintenance issue and constitutes “extraordinary circumstances.”
While the Finnish Consumer Disputes Board declared that the airline was liable for compensation, that body lacks enforcement power.
Several customers used a third party service that promises to pursue claims for a piece of what they recover. IfDelayed sued Finnair, and ultimately lost. They were ordered to pay Finnair’s legal expenses, and declared bankruptcy.
Since Finnair couldn’t recover legal expenses from the company that sued them, they went after the passengers for approximately $8200 each, some of whom have paid.
What You’re Entitled To For European Flight Delays
EU regulation 261 (2004) requires airlines to compensate passengers between €250 and €600 cash for flight delays of over 3 hours, for cancellations, and for involuntary denied boardings due to overbooking. The amount depends on the distance of the flight.
This applies to flight departures from EU countries, and it applies to flights headed to the EU on airlines based there. It also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. And it applies to award tickets not just paid tickets.
Compensation even applies to cancellations that happen in advance, not just the day of departure. In fact if the cancellation happens within two weeks of departure an airline has to pay compensation unless they can provide transportation more than two hours earlier that arrives no more than four hours later than originally scheduled. The rules get more stringent within a week of departure.
Handling A Claim Yourself
You can simply write to the airline’s customer service something to the effect of,
I am writing regarding flight NUMBER on [date] from AAAA to BBBB with scheduled departure time of XX:XX. My record locator is ZZZZZZZ and ticket number 0000000000.
This flight arrived TK hours late [or “was cancelled and I arrived on flight ABC at XX:XX on Y date.”] Therefore I am requesting compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004.
The flight was XYZ kilometers therefore I am seeking €[amount].
Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to your reply within 14 days.
Selling Your Claim To A Third Party
There are many companies that will take over the hassle of fighting with an airline for compensation. They generally follow a policy of “you don’t pay anything unless they get you money” and then take a portion of what they collect.
Airlines often stonewall and count on consumers giving up in order to save themselves money, although if you’re persistent enough they’ll often pay out. In outsourcing your claim you’re paying someone on a contingency fee basis to be persistent on your behalf, and avoid the hassle yourself.
However the Finnair case is a cautionary tale where you authorize a lawsuit on your behalf. According to the airline, in a statement provided to Australian Frequent Flyer,
Finnair complies with the EU 261 obligation and pays compensation accordingly. In some cases, when we don’t believe compensation is payable, we choose to defend our position as EU compensation-related costs form a considerable cost item for airlines. While we understand that the legal costs may have come as a surprise and caused a burden to individuals, Finnair’s stance, in this case, was confirmed by the court ruling and we have then exercised our right to recover the cost from IfDelayed’s clients.
Flight delays are always unfortunate and sometimes the reasons behind them are beyond our control like in this case. In every case, our first priority is to make sure our customers reach their destination as soon as possible. We always recommend contacting us directly to ensure open and transparent communication about the merits of the case before commencing legal actions.