Thursday 13 December 2018

Passenger rights made plane and simple

Aviation law is on your side when it comes to compensation, says Sinead Ryan

Ryanair CEO: Michael O’Leary. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ryanair CEO: Michael O’Leary. Photo: Frank McGrath
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

The ongoing debacle at Ryanair where up to 60 flights a day are being cancelled for the next four weeks has seriously inconvenienced thousands of passengers.

Although airline chief Michael O'Leary uncharacteristically fell on his sword over the mess, which was the mismanagement of staffing rosters, he said he wouldn't stand in the way of compensation claims.

Aviation law is strong and the truth is he couldn't even if he wanted to. This week, I'm looking at your rights as a passenger if something goes wrong, whether it be adverse weather or an airline screwing up.

The table shows the different enforcement bodies to approach if you're entitled to compensation.

General travel rights

There are two main bodies of law in place across Europe: the Montreal Convention (1999), which ensures people delayed at airports have the right to "care and assistance", and EU261/2004, which sets out additional compensation for those whose flights are cancelled or delayed by airlines.

Care and assistance means if you're sitting in the airport for more than four hours you have the right to a meal, telephone calls, emails and even hotel accommodation (and transport there and back), if necessary. All airlines must automatically offer this via ground staff.

If a flight is cancelled, they must offer you the choice of a refund or book you on the next available flight, and look after you until then. If you take the refund and fly with another airline, your 'contract' with the original airline is effectively finished, and you may not get additional compensation.


Under EU261, a flat amount of €250, €400 or €600 is payable in certain circumstances on delayed/cancelled flights. The amount depends on the distance and time delayed. For the Ryanair stranded, €250 becomes payable for flights under 1,500km. However, exceptions are built-in:

  • the airline can refuse to pay if they informed you of the cancellation within 14 days, or seven days with an alternative flight booked which gets you to the destination within four hours of the original schedule. Given Ryanair has now notified its cancelled flights to October 31, this puts most people outside compensation;
  • airlines can also refuse to pay up in "extraordinary circumstances" such as adverse weather, a strike or a volcanic ash cloud.

Travel agent

If you booked a package holiday via a tour operator, it is their job to look after you. Ground reps should re-arrange accommodation and do the leg work on rebooking flights.

Travel bans

If the reason for the cancelled flight is due to terrorist activity, you will get a refund or a re-route. However, this is dependent on the Dept of Foreign Affairs slapping a travel ban on the destination. If you simply choose not to fly because you're worried, you don't qualify for a refund.

Airline no-nos

Every year the European Consumer Centre gets thousands of complaints about everything from dodgy electrical goods to being scammed by Nigerian princes.

The single biggest category, however, is regarding airline passengers, accounting for over 40pc of all contacts.

Common complaints include the price increasing between booking and flying (not allowed), to bags not being boarded due to flash strikes (not your problem), and being stranded abroad due to bad weather.

While airlines don't always have to compensate for missed connections or birds flying into engines, in many cases they rely on passengers not knowing the difference. Complaining and seeing it through is vital to getting your rights vindicated.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business