Europe May Get Rid Of Strong Airline Consumer Protections

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.

Now they may even eliminate the protections in EU regulation 261 (2004) which 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.

For nearly two decades, passengers on a European trip delayed by more than three hours have been able to claim back between €250 and €600 for the trouble. That could soon be a thing of the past.

…Airlines have long argued it’s unfair they are compelled to pay out hundreds of euros for a delay that is likely to have had a negligible impact on a traveler’s trip. They also point out that the compensation is typically far higher than the price of the ticket.

  • Eliminating strong protections is being driven by the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU Presidency. Airlines plan to work with the Swedes on this once Sweden takes over in January
  • Airlines are lobbying heavily
  • Negotiations have stalled for years because of unrelated disputes between the U.K. and Spain over the Gibraltar airport, however the U.K. is no longer in the E.U.

Past proposals have involved increasing the length of time that consumers have to be delayed in order to receive compensations, such as five hours, and expanding the circumstances that would exempt an airline from liability. Airlines also want to cap liability at tickets cost, though a two day delay is an imposition on passengers whether they paid 30 euros or 500 euros.

Reportedly EU bureaucrats are sympathetic to IATA and European airline lobbyists “but don’t want to appear to be rolling back passenger rights.”

Here’s how to claim European delay compensation while you still can.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Wish they would apply this to baggage. My bag got lost by Vueling and it is impossible to submit a claim with them.

  2. EU261 is one of the biggest reasons I would choose a European airline over a non-European on a trip to Europe.

    There’s got to be some equilibrium between passengers and airlines. The lack of protection in the US is ridiculous with an airline promising nothing but deliver a passenger to their destination at some time. Sure WHEN matters to most passengers.

    I agree 2 hours delay may be a mere inconvenience for most passengers but not to all of them. There may be some scheduled activities dependent on the passenger’s plans. The argument to give it more of a time gap is a good one but not always possible due to other commitments, schedules and extra cost.

    But most importantly a delay over 2 hours is not just 2 hours and 10 minutes. It can be several hours or even days. And EU261 provides a significant incentive for airlines to operate close to schedule.

    I was just recently delayed by 13 hours on 1 hour long Ryan Air flight. I spent a good part of the night sitting at the airport and made to my destination by 5AM, effectively ruining a stay at an upscale hotel. I still had 5 nights at a different hotel and my whole trip did not get damaged beyond repair but yes, I do feel I deserve the compensation. I’ll hopefully be getting 200 euros for this huge inconvenience which I don’t feel adequately covers the experience but if they only owed me the price of the ticket (about $50), it would not be fair at all.

  3. At Pat

    Seriously? Not in your dreams. Have flown U. S. airlines 30 years, and now European airlines for 10 years. You are sadly mistaken.

  4. So many airlines in Europe are nationally run. It doesn’t surprise me they are lobbying to reduce cost of their own incompetence

  5. The fact that many EU airlines will play every dirty trick they can think of to avoid paying tells me that the current system isn’t strong enough rather than needing to be weakened.

  6. @Matthew. The proposal for the U.S. is not even close to EU 261. We would be so lucky.

  7. I do think there needs to be a little more balance on the European rules in general. I find them to be too severe (i.e. that you could make many times the cost of your trip or a replacement trip) and the fact they apply in situations clearly outside the airlines control is kind of crazy. I realize the flipside to rolling them back is the airlines will just play more games and try to jump through more loopholes.

  8. @AdamH – I think it’s unfair to link compensation to the cost of the ticket. The damage done by airline’s delay may cost you a whole trip if we’re talking about a typical short weekend intra-European trip. It may cost you a whole bunch of money wasted on a hotel reservation which is typically not refundable by the time you learn about the delay. You pay what the airline asked for – now the airline needs to deliver or pay a good compensation.

  9. EU261 is absolutely needed, but it may be necessary to tweak it in some small ways. The airlines have not been quickly and easily paying out compensation that is legally due to the passenger, even when there is no dispute over the facts. A few years ago, I had already checked in for a long haul US to Europe flight, already had my boarding pass for a business class seat. Upon dropping off my baggage, I was notified that I was being downgraded to economy. Involuntary downgrades are covered under EU261. It took me eight months of back and forth with the airline and filing a case with Sweden’s governing authority to get compensation. If the governing country wasn’t Sweden, which eventually came through for me and kept pushing the case, I doubt if I would have received anything at all.

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