What are my rights if my flights are cancelled?
Delays and cancellations are part and parcel of modern air travel. So what exactly are your rights if your flight is affected?
How do I know if my flights are affected?
Check your airline's website (e.g. aerlingus.com or ryanair.com).
In the event of a strike or cancellation, it should quickly post the relevant flight disruption information, including a list of affected flights.
It should also contact you by email or SMS.
What are my rights if my flight is cancelled?
If your flight is cancelled for any reason, and regardless of when you are notified, your airline must offer you the choice between:
1) Re-routing as soon as possible, subject to availability, free of charge.
2) Re-routing at a later date.
3) A full refund.
How do I arrange a re-routing or refund?
In the event of a cancellation or delay, airlines are obliged to inform passengers of their options. If this happens at the airport, staff will usually be on hand to talk you through the various scenarios. Otherwise, the quickest option is to check your carrier's website. It should include the steps to process your own refunds or bookings.
Am I entitled to care and assistance?
If your flight is cancelled and you choose to be re-routed as soon as possible, then you are entitled to meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation and transfers between the airport and hotel as required. If the airline does not provide these, and you end up paying yourself, keep the receipts - you are entitled to a reimbursement of reasonable expenses.
NB. A five-star hotel may not be a reasonable expense!
Bear in mind that if your flight is cancelled and you choose a full refund, then the airline's obligations to you end there and then.
Am I entitled to compensation?
Financial compensation depends on the flight length and the reason for the cancellation. It differs to care and assistance obligations (as outlined above), and generally ranges from €250 (short-haul, less than 1,500km) to €600 (long-haul, over 3,500km).
Several scenarios can impact on compensation rights.
1) If you receive less than seven days notice of cancellation and choose to be re-routed as soon as possible (i.e. option 1 above), you will NOT be entitled to compensation - provided your new flights depart within one hour of the original departure and land within two hours of the original arrival.
2) If you receive between seven days and two weeks notice of cancellation, provided you choose to be re-routed and are facilitated with a new flight that departs no more than two hours before the original departure time and arrives no more than four hours after the original arrival time, you are NOT entitled to compensation.
3) If you receive notification of two weeks or more, you will NOT be entitled to compensation - provided, of course, that the airline offers full re-routing or refund options.
NB. If the air carrier can prove the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, then you may NOT be entitled to compensation. However, you are still due a refund or re-routing.
Is a strike an extraordinary circumstance?
That's the six million dollar question! Airlines may or may not claim them not be, depending on the circumstances involved. However, compensation claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis - so if you believe you have a strong one, go ahead and make it.
Bad weather generally is considered an extraordinary circumstance.
How do I claim compensation?
Compensation claims are never evaluated or resolved at the airport. If you believe compensation is your due, then the first step is to formally contact the air carrier. If you're not satisfied with its response, then you can escalate by contacting the National Enforcement Body - which, in most cases for Irish passengers, is the Commission for Aviation Regulation (01 661-1700; flightrights.ie).
If my outbound flight is cancelled, what happens my return flight?
If a flight isn't subject to disruption, technically you are not entitled to any care or compensation. However, airlines do tend to take a logical view, and normally work with passengers to refund or reschedule flights impacted in this way.
Check its website for details.
What if my flight is delayed?
If your flight is delayed by more than five hours, and you choose not to travel, then you are entitled to a full refund. If you accept this refund, the airline is no longer obliged to provide onward travel or assistance.
If your flight is delayed by at least two hours (short-haul), three hours (European) or four hours (long haul), you are entitled to care and assistance as outlined above.
If you arrive at your destination more than three hours after the scheduled arrival time, you may be entitled to between €250 and €600 compensation, depending on the flight distance.
How can my travel insurance help?
In the event of a flight cancellation, the first source of refunds and re-routing should be with your airline (see above).
Standard travel insurance policies don't offer much help here, but 'missed departure' cover can help you secure a new flight, or an additional night's accomodation.
If your policy includes extra "travel disruption" cover, you should be covered for additional transport or accommodation costs up to €1,000pp, according to Ciaran Mulligan, Managing Director of Blue Insurance and Multitrip.com.
This covers "99pc" of scenarios with flight cancellations due to weather, strikes and so on, Mulligan says, but note that it covers transport and accommodation-related expenses only - i.e. not lost annual leave, business opportunities or deposits, concert tickets or museum or attraction fees booked in advance online.
Is it too late to take out travel insurance?
Travel Disruption cover can be added retrospectively to a policy, but not to claim on an event that has already happened (or been forecast).
"There's a seven day moratorium on travel disruption from time you take out the policy to time you will be covered," Mulligan warns.
However, 'missed departure' cover should still apply.
I’m nervous about travel. Can I get a refund?
No. If you cancel your holiday without the DFA (dfa.ie/travel) declaring travel to be unsafe, it could be deemed "disinclination to travel".
As such, you may have to pay a cancellation fee or forfeit some or all of the cost of your air fare or holiday package.
That said, it's worth noting that Irish tour operators have in the past worked to facilitate customers affected by exceptional events, so it's always worth a phone call.
Where can I find more information?
For full details on your air passenger rights in the event of cancellation, delays, downgrading and denied boarding, see www.flightrights.ie.
This article has been updated.