EU Rule 261 – Important if you Fly into or out of Europe

I’m going to take a little break from my trip report in Europe to talk about a different subject that may, at one time or another, affect you. That subject is a flight delay or cancellation while flying from an EU country to another EU country OR from an EU country to elsewhere OR flying into Europe on a EU carrier.  In my case I was flying from Milan via Brussels to Washington Dulles this summer.  Since I had a delay, I’ll be addressing that and will not write about flight cancellation.

BACKGROUND – We were flying on an award ticket that we had booked through United Airlines.  We flew from Milan’s city airport – Linate – at 6:30 AM to Brussels on Brussels Airlines and then we were booked on the noon flight on United Airlines to Washington Dulles with an arrival time in IAD at 3:00 PM.  While in Milan I was received  email alerts  informing me that our flight from Brussels would be delayed one, then two hours.  We arrived in Brussels around 8:30AM and after we went through security we went immediately over to the Passenger Assistance desk.  Interestingly enough, there were two lines there – one for Chicago passengers and one for Washington Dulles passengers.  When it was my turn, I was then told that the delay would be seven hours long!  Once I had processed that information, I then began asking questions.  Was there another flight that would leave Brussels before 7 PM?  I was told “yes” but it was through Chicago and it would arrive 30 minutes before my rescheduled flight.  I asked about flying into another city such as Boston, Philly, etc then taking a flight to Washington Dulles.  “No, there was nothing else”, I was told by the agent.

They offered us a 14 euro voucher for lunch, but not dinner and that was it.  We sat down and tried to strategize.  I powered up my iPad and found that there was a flight to Munich that would get me into IAD much earlier.  I got back into the very long line and by the time I reached the agent at the desk, it was too late to try and make the flight to Munich. in order to change planes to get to IAD.  I could have made it if they had rerouted us when I first approached the Passenger Assistance desk.  I expressed my displeasure that they did try to find other flights to get us home other than the one via Chicago.

Remembering that there was some rule about delayed flights in Europe, I asked the agent about it and they gave me a pamphlet about filing a claim.  Apparently they have to have the information on the counter but they don’t have to tell you anything or really answer any questions. Beyond that they were not helpful.

EU 261  – sets out the compensation that passengers will receive in the event of a delay or cancelation, or when they are denied boarding because of overbooking, or when the airline is unable to accommodate them in the class that they had booked their seat in.  You must be departing from any airport in the EU or arriving in the EU on an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.   You must have a confirmed reservation and have checked in; your ticket was purchased at a fare available to the public and that includes an award ticket from a frequent flyer program.  You are not entitled to compensation if you are denied boarding on the grounds of health, safety, security or invalid travel documentation.

DELAYS – if your flight is delayed 4 hours from your scheduled departure, you may be entitled to compensation between €250 -€600 depending on the distance of the flight.

If you are within the EU and are traveling  1,500 km or less –  you are entitled to receive €250.  If you are traveling over 1,500 km then your compensation would be €400.

If you are traveling between the EU and a non-EU country and are traveling 1,500 km or less  then your compensation is €250.  If you are traveling 1,500 – 3.500 km then you may receive €400 and if it is 3,500 km or more then you may receive €600.

ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION – the airlines have to provide meals (vouchers for meals), two telephone calls , fax or email messages for you.  We were given phone cards that could only be used in Belgium.  As I stood in line, I heard the agent calling an elderly couple’s son in the United States to let them know what was happening.  If the delay causes you to spend the night, they will provide a hotel and transportation between the airport and the hotel.

If your airline offers  you an alternative flight with a similar schedule, the compensation may be reduced by 50%.

You also have a choice with either the above compensation OR reimbursement within seven days of the full cost of the ticket at the proce at which it was purchased for the part of your trip not flown

You may not be entitled to the compensation if the delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstance such as bad weather.  This does not include mechanical.

WHAT I DID – I sent a message to United asking for compensation under EU Rule 261.  After two weeks I heard nothing.  I then sent another message and within a week I received an email from United Customer Care apologizing for the delay.  I was given two alternative options instead of the €600.  The first option was a $1000 voucher for travel on United or United Express for one year.  At first glance, the idea of each of us receiving a $1000 voucher sounded great.  We had another river cruise planned for next year however…..we could only use the voucher on United and we could get to Paris but we would either have to pay cash or use points to get to Marseille where we were staying before our cruise.  This is what we were told:

Travel Certificate(s), including but not limited to (1) the validity
period of one year from the issue date with no extension, (2) there
will be no refunds, (3) the Travel Certificate(s) will not be reissued
if lost or stolen, (4) the certificate may be redeemed for credit up to
its face amount only towards the purchase of an electronic airline
ticket(s), where eligible, from United, and (5) if the face amount of
the certificate exceeds the cost of the ticket for which it is
surrendered, any residual amount will be applied to the same Pin for use
toward another ticket until either the original issued amount is
depleted or the expiration date has been reached, whichever comes first

Our second option was 30,000 miles deposited into our Mileage Plus account.  Valuing each point at 1.5 cents, then this would be valued at $450.00, less than the €600 we were entitled to.

Upon further thinking, we had been saving up the miles in our account and as nice as the 30,000 points would have been, I think having €1200 in our pocket would certainly make our trip next year even nicer.  By choosing to not accept any of the alternatives, we have the flexibility to use the cash as we want, we aren’t locked into only using United Airlines – this is the best decision for us.

What I do now is to fax to them the signed form indicating what I am electing to so and it will be processed in six weeks. I will not receive a check but instead will receive a prepaid VISA debit card.

As difficult as it was sitting in an airport for about eleven hours, getting home at 9:00 PM, leaving the airport at 11:00 PM it is nice receiving some compensation for it.  It’s even better that we were on a reward ticket!  I’m sure that most requests for compensation do not go as smoothly as ours did, but we are very satisfied.

If you are delayed, save all your paperwork as they will ask you for your flight number and ticket number.  I also wrote notes to myself to put in my letter when I asked for compensation. I do not know if that helped or not but I am hoping that when they read that we were not offered other flights, that they could understand why we were upset.  Also, you have to apply for the compensation – the airlines are not going to voluntary come to you.  They do have to have information on the agents counter but they don’t really tell you what it is.  Be proactive, ask questions, save everything and research and file when you get home.

Remember, if you have a delay, cancellation, in a different class ticket than what you were booked in, involuntary bumping – there are compensations for you but you must seek them out.  The main exclusion to these is extraordinary circumstances (click on link for examples) such as bad weather and a list of other reasonable reasons why there would be a delay.

If you have received a denial letter from your airline because they consider mechanical delays to be extraordinary circumstance, know that they are wrong.  Send a copy of your letter seeking reimbursement and their letter denying your claim to the National Enforcement Body of the country you were flying out of or on whose airline you were on.  Here is a link to the list of the various enforcement bodies.

Have you been delayed?  Have you applied for compensation?  If so, what was your experience?

 

UPDATE – I was successful and received my prepaid debit card for $677 for both myself and Blogger Hubby.In this instance, it was not as difficult as I had been led to believe.  Thank you United Airlines.

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