Tuesday 6 December 2016

Your rights: What if the ash blows this way?

Travel writer, Pol O Conghaile

Published 25/05/2011 | 11:30

According to European law, you do have a number of legal comebacks if the latest ash cloud from Iceland affects your flight plans.

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What if my flight is cancelled?

If your flight is cancelled, airlines should offer a choice between a refund (within seven days), a re-routing at the earliest opportunity or a re-routing at a later date.

If you opt for a refund, the airline's obligation to you ends immediately.

If you opt for a re-routing at the earliest opportunity, you are entitled to meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation where overnight stays become necessary. Air carriers are also obliged to offer two telephone calls, fax messages or emails free of charge.

If you opt to be re-routed at a later date convenient for you, there is no care obligation.

What if my flight is delayed?

You have a right to care and assistance when:

• A flight of 1,500km or less is delayed by two hours or more;

• Intra-Community (EU) flights of more than 1,500km, and all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km, are delayed by three hours or more;

• All other flights are delayed by four hours or more.

In the case of such delays, you should receive information on your rights, meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time, and hotel accommodation if necessary.

If the delay is five hours or longer and you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund for the parts of the journey not completed.

However, if the purpose of your journey is no longer attainable -- eg if you miss a connecting flight or a meeting -- then a refund must be offered for the part of the journey already made, plus the part not yet made.

If applicable, you should also be offered a flight back to the first point of departure.

Bear in mind that if you do take the option of a refund, the obligation of the air carrier stops right there -- you are no longer entitled to any care or assistance.

How exactly do I change my booking or apply for a refund?

When a flight is cancelled or delayed, airlines are obliged to inform passengers of their options. So the first step is to ask a staff member for help. This isn't always practical however. When a flight is cancelled, hundreds of passengers can be left queuing to speak to a handful of staff who may be in the dark themselves.

Another option is to call the airline's customer centre, but again, the wait may be lengthy. In times of major disruption, Aer Lingus says it experiences up to 1,000pc increases in call volumes.

The best bet is to get on to your airline's website, where you can process your own refunds and re-bookings quickly. If you don't have internet access on your phone or at the airport, call a friend or family member who does -- they can change or apply for the refund for you.

Remember, if you opt for a refund, the airline's obligation to you ends immediately.

What expenses can I claim for?

Where flights are delayed or cancelled, meals and accommodation would be provided by the airline - usually by way of vouchers. During the last crisis, the EU and national enforcement bodies appealed to both airlines and passengers to act reasonably.

Because there is no definition of what constitute 'reasonable' expenses, however, claims have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

If you do find yourself stranded as the result of a cancellation or delay, use your best judgement and keep your receipts.

If I do incur expenses, how do I claim them back?

• If you are an Aer Lingus passenger, write to the Customer Care Unit at Aer Lingus Head Office, Dublin Airport, Ireland (or fax 01-886 3832).

• Ryanair's Customer Service Department is at PO Box 11451, Swords, Co Dublin (or fax 01-812 1676). It also has an EU Regulation 261 claim form in PDF format on its website (ryanair.com).

Both airlines require original receipts, but remember to keep copies for yourself.

Are all flights covered?

No. It applies only to passengers departing from EU/EAA airports and passengers departing from outside the EU but arriving at an EU airport on an EU/EAA-licensed carrier.

If you have already received compensation or assistance in a third country, then you are no longer entitled to compensation.

In addition, compensation does not apply to anyone travelling for free, on a reduced fair not available to the public or to passengers who check in late.

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