Manchester airport is halting operations due to snow. Busy airports like Liverpool, Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris and Lille are also experiencing weather issues. And while some are screaming that a snowball existing proves that climate change is a lie, we know that our august readers are more rightfully concerned with their air passenger rights. So, what are you entitled to if you get stranded in the airport during these snowy days?
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 is what keeps air passengers from being thrown to the wolves when something goes amiss with their flight. Thus, if your flight is cancelled, the airline has to:
- provide you with another flight – either its own or a rival’s;
- provide food, drink and shelter. To be more precise, if your delay is supposed to last more than 2 hours, you should be provided with food and drink;
- If you flight delay will hold you up through the night, the airline has to find you hotel accommodations.
If the airline doesn’t do that, you may be forced to do that yourself.. In that case, they are supposed to refund your “reasonable” expenses. While you and I would read reasonable with as “5 stars and all the minibar you raid,” it’s actually closer to cheapest alternative tickets (if we’re talking about flights) or a budget hotel (if you’re staying overnight). Keep those receipts, because you know you won’t be getting anything without them.
Do note that your alternative flight might not be prompt: easyJet claims they are allowed to take up to 48 hours to find an alternative flight while Ryanair will try to do it on the same or the following day, but will only consider other airlines in the direst of possible circumstances. And they might have to get dire in deed, as the passengers on a recent flight that got diverted from Thessaloniki to a Romanian airport had to either choose an 8 hour bus ride or to stay at the airport.
Note that in such circumstances like these airlines are supposed to pay out flight disruption compensation. These can go up to €600, depending on the distance of the flight. However, no good deed goes unpunished and no regulation goes untarnished by corporate interests. Hence why EC 261/2004 lists extraordinary circumstances, which relieve the airlines of the duty of paying out flight compensation.
So what are those “extraordinary circumstances?” War, political and security issues are some of the most serious if least likely. If your flight got delayed or cancelled because of a bomb scare, if an unruly passenger had to be removed, if war broke out or something similarly dire happened, you are not entitled to a flight compensation. Airport closing for some other reason is also considered such an extraordinary circumstance. And if your plane is not fit to fly due to plane manufacturing defects or bird strike, you won’t get compensated either. Industrial action is also considered not-worthy of refund, but courts have been turning around on this after the massive Ryanair strikes last year.
Unfortunately, weather conditions is probably the most ironclad defense the airline has against paying out. So if the weather at the origin point or the destination is too bad to allow flights, it’s also bad enough to take away your compensation. Yes, this applies to airports closing because of terrible snowstorms, too. If you really want to get technical, if the airline runs out of de-icing fluid because of third party interference, they don’t have to pay you anything. Well, aside for paying for your food and lodging.
So there you have it: if your airport is slowly becoming an icy tomb and the airplanes are frozen to the tarmac, you are unlikely to ever receive flight compensation. However, you’re still human and you deserve to be treated as such. That’s why you should be aware of your rights and fight for them whenever possible.