Flying to Europe? It Pays to Know EU 261
Mention the word to an airline employee, and you're likely to get one of the following responses:
"We're not going to talk about that."
"Sorry. Try getting in touch with IATA."
Those are actual answers, the latter referring me to the
"We're not saying anything about that," an airline spokeswoman said, prodding me to keep moving before I made a scene.
So what is it about EU 261 that makes airlines so skittish?
"It's contentious," says
It's also worth knowing what's in EU 261 if you plan to fly to
Make no mistake; this is
Maybe the best way to start understanding EU 261 is by understanding what it's not. Which is to say, it is not what it claims to be, at least according to the airlines.
Take what happened to
"During this time we incurred the cost of three additional days in a hotel, three additional days of meals, and three additional days of parking," he says. "These costs do not include the three additional vacation days my wife and I had to unexpectedly use." That added up to nearly
"Your flight was canceled in compliance with the mandates halting all air travel in the affected areas," it responded in an e-mail. "We are unable to honor the request you have made for reimbursement of incidental expenses and compensation because the cancellation was not within our control."
All of which brings us to the first thing you absolutely must know about EU 261: the "extraordinary circumstances" loophole. Article 1, Paragraph 12 of the law offers an escape hatch for airlines, letting them off the hook "when the cancellation occurs in extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken."
Airlines have defined "extraordinary" in its broadest possible terms -- including preventable mechanical delays and crew problems. Even though an EU court ruled against (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7796983.stm) that interpretation, airlines have continued to push the limit on what constitutes "extraordinary."
Here's something else you need to know: the law may apply to you even if you aren't in
In other words, as long as you're headed to
So what does the rule entitle you to? Article 7 addresses that question. For delays, you might get paid anywhere between
Not frequent flier miles. Cold, hard, cash. (See Article 1, Paragraph 13: "Passengers whose flights are canceled should be able either to obtain reimbursement of their tickets or to obtain rerouting under satisfactory conditions, and should be adequately cared for while awaiting a later flight.")
When something happens with a flight in
Finally, EU 261 forces airlines to keep their passengers posted on their rights. "Passengers should be fully informed of their rights in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, so that they can effectively exercise their rights," it says in Article 1, Paragraph 20.
Airlines would probably prefer you didn't know that extraordinary circumstances aren't whatever they want them to be. They don't want you to know EU 261 applies to flights outside of
They certainly don't want you to be too informed, and that includes actually reading the law (http://ec.europa.eu/transport/passengers/air/air_en.htm).
It's unlikely the newest proposed passenger rights rules (http://regs.dot.gov/rulemakings/201005/report.htm(POUNDSIGN)75) here in the States will ever be as robust as
If we let them.
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