Tuesday 28 March 2017

Let down by airlines? It's your shout

Gemma O'Doherty

Well, well, well. You really do feel you've been getting a raw deal from your airlines. We've been overwhelmed by the avalanche of mail we received recently from readers struggling to get a response from their carrier after submitting expenses claims for compensation following cancelled or delayed flights.

What part of EU Regulation 261 do airlines not understand? It's so straightforward that a first-year law student could recite it in their sleep. If a flight is cancelled or delayed for more than five hours, passengers are entitled to compensation unless the circumstances are truly extraordinary, such as airport closures or terrorism.

Even though the law is clearly on the passenger's side on this one, it seems airlines are dragging their feet when it comes to paying out, and their customer service often leaves a lot to be desired.

To be fair to the industry, it has had a lot to contend with recently, what with strikes, Christmas snow and the dreaded ash cloud, all of which have had a devastating effect on operations. But that is no justification for downright rudeness or ignoring the concerns of its fare-paying customers.

Many of you who wrote to us say you have been left in the lurch without so much as a one-line courtesy response, despite having solid grounds for making a claim. In many cases, your holidays have been utterly spoiled and you have lost precious time ever since pursuing your claim, only to hit a brick wall.

In the coming weeks, we will be sifting through your complaints and answering as many as we can in a series of features on passenger rights.

In the meantime, if you have had no success with your claim, make sure you air your frustrations to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (01-6611 700; aviationreg.ie). It is the statutory body tasked with monitoring and enforcing EU legislation, and its website is a good starting point for any passenger who feels their ordeal has fallen on deaf ears.

Another course of action is to take your case to the small claims court, but if you don't want to handle the paperwork yourself, you could hire the services of a Dutch-based legal company, EU Claim, which acts as a mediator and will process your claim on your behalf.

It works on a no-win, no-fee basis and takes about 27pc of the money recovered if a claim is upheld.

Most disgruntled passengers say that airlines usually reject their claims on the grounds of "extraordinary circumstances", but they never have to produce the evidence to prove these situations.

This small team of lawyers analyses weather reports and the schedules of other airlines and often finds there was nothing "extraordinary" behind their failure to get the passenger from A to B. When that is made clear to the airline, they generally pay up.

Even if you don't avail of the services of EUClaim, its website (euclaim.com) is a good starting point to find out if you have a valid claim or not.

Once you have established that is the case, keep fighting. Your perseverance will go a long way towards making flying a more consumer-friendly experience for everyone.

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