Consumers still have difficulties obtaining compensation for flight delays and cancellations

The number of air passengers is growing continuously. For this reason, air passenger rights are among the most important rights of consumers in the EU. During 2015, the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) has considered over 4,000 European consumer disputes where the consumers concerned have not been able to obtain compensation for delayed or cancelled flights by themselves.  Air travel is indeed the greatest cause of cross-border complaints at the European Consumer Centres Network.

Our report as published here “ECC-Net Air Passenger Rights Report 2015. Do consumers get the compensation they are entitled to and at what costs?” is based on complaints that the network has received from the 28 EU member states, and from Norway and Iceland.

Long processing times for compensation claims

The EU’s Regulation concerning the rights of air passengers, (EC) No. 261/2004, is not sufficiently clear and unambiguous in respect of the consumer’s right to care and compensation in the event of a delay or cancellation of a flight. Air carriers should, therefore, improve information provided to passengers on their rights.

The channel for claiming compensation in the event of a delay or cancellation of a flight is, as such, clear. Consumers can seek information about their rights to compensation, for example, on our website. If the grounds for a claim are met, the consumer should file a complaint in writing with the air carrier.

It has been observed that carriers’ response times to compensation claims for delays have increasingly lengthened. Consumers may even have to wait longer than 10 weeks for a response. Air carriers typically invoke technical problems as reasons for refusing compensation. The judgement of the European Court of Justice given in September 2015, however, has finally clarified the line of interpretation and, in this respect, the situation is therefore improving.

Consumers who have been refused compensation, with respect to a domestic air carrier, can turn to the Consumer Advisory Service and, with respect to an international air carrier, to the European Consumer Centre. In some cases, it may be necessary to bring the matter before the supervisory authority or seek a claim under the EU Regulation concerning so-called small claims in a court.

“Cooperation between national supervisory bodies, the European Consumer Centres Network, consumer associations and air carriers, and businesses should be strengthened in order to ensure that passengers receive adequate care, help and compensation regardless of which air carrier they fly with or country they start their journey from,” says Leena Lindström, Director of the European Consumer Centre office in Finland.

Services subject to a charge are also available

The legislation may also have benefits in terms of employment. Situations of flight delay or cancellation have also opened up opportunities for companies that assist consumers to claim compensation from air carriers.

“Our report brings to the fore the practices of these so-called private claims operators and experiences of their use. Consumers should understand that this is a matter of business whereby companies charge consumers mainly a percentage-based fee in the event that the commission has a favourable outcome for the consumer, i.e. compensation from the air carrier,” emphasises Leena Lindström.

Further information
Report: ECC-Net Air Passenger Rights Report 2015. Do consumers get the compensation they are entitled to and at what costs?
Information graphics: Private claims companies – and how they inform the consumers.