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Cents & Sensibility: Flight problems

"People have mistaken ideas," she says. "They think, 'If I don't have travel insurance, I'm not entitled to anything'. That's not the case. There is a legal obligation on the airlines that if the flight is cancelled or delayed, they have to display the air passenger rights that apply in that context."

So not only are you entitled to comeback, they have to tell you that you are.

If your flight is under 1,500km, it has to be delayed for two hours or more before you get anything, and for three hours if it's between 1,500km and 3,500km.

For longer flights, you have to be grounded for four hours or more before the entitlements kick in. According to the ECC, "disrupted passengers must receive adequate care".

This means meals and refreshments, accommodation if necessary, transport to that accommodation, together with "two telephone calls, faxes or emails". If the flight is delayed by five hours or more and you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a refund for the part of the journey not completed. But if you decide to accept the refund, you don't get the food or the accommodation.

Suppose you've already started your journey and missed your connecting flight as a result of the delay. In these circumstances, you are entitled to be returned to your point of departure at no cost, and in that case, the airline has to come up with food and a bed for the night.

If a flight is cancelled, the regulations say you should be given a choice between rerouting to your final destination or a refund for the part of the journey cancelled or not completed because of the cancellation. If you choose rerouting, the carrier has to offer you an alternative flight to your final destination as soon as possible, or at a later date of your choice, subject to availability of seats. If the carrier offers a flight to an alternative airport in the region, they have to carry the cost of transferring you from that airport to the one in your reservation, or to another close-by destination.

If you're already at the airport when your flight is cancelled, you're entitled to the "adequate care" specified above -- food, accommodation if necessary, transport and phone calls.

If you choose a refund, they don't have to fulfil these adequate care provisions.

If the cancellation means your journey no longer serves its intended purpose, you are entitled to a free flight back to where you started and a refund, along with the adequate care provisions.

Besides all that, you may also be entitled to cash compensation for a cancelled, and sometimes even a delayed, flight. How much depends on when you are told of the cancellation, the alternative flight arrangements, the length of the flight and the reason for the cancellation.

As a rule, if you're told that the flight is cancelled two weeks before departure, they don't have to pay anything. Otherwise, the distance determines the amount due. This is usually €250 per passenger for flights of 1,500km or less, €400 for flights between 1,500km and 3,500km and €600 for all other flights. Passengers don't get compensation if a flight is cancelled due to what they call "extraordinary circumstances". Airlines try to define these as broadly as they can: bad weather, political unrest, a security threat, unexpected safety shortcomings, air traffic control restrictions and strikes. But these are open to interpretation and argument, so don't be shy about taking them to task.

If the flight is overbooked and you are denied boarding, you should get a choice between rerouting to the final destination or a refund for the parts of the journey you haven't competed. You get food and hotel, and you're entitled to compensation, along the same lines as the entitlements that arise when a flight is cancelled.

>> BAGS

Suppose you arrive home tanned and relaxed but your baggage doesn't. Again there's compensation available. But because different carriers have different approaches, it's not as straightforward as with flight cancellations.

You may have to produce receipts for expenses that arise as a result of lost or delayed baggage. Whether your luggage is lost, delayed or destroyed, the amount of compensation is generally limited to around €1,300, although again, the individual airlines differ around how much of this they'll agree to pay out.

If you do run into luggage problems, you've got to act within 21 days to avail of compensation, or seven for damaged luggage. The first thing to do is to complete a Property Irregularity Report at the baggage claims desk. Give details of your bag and keep a copy. Hold onto your boarding card and baggage tags, and start getting receipts for all expenses resulting from the delay of your bag.

If your complaint against the airline runs into a brick wall, your next call is to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, which is the national enforcement body for the European legislation that covers this area. You can file a complaint online at aviationreg.ie, or contact them on 01 6611700.


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