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Did you read the fine print?: Make sure you know your airline’s Rules of Carriage

When you purchase an airline ticket you are also agreeing to that carrier’s “Rules of Carriage,” which are the rules put in place to cover an airline’s operation guidelines as they pertain to you—the ticket holder.

Since 2009, when the Department of Transportation issued a ruling on how long an airline can keep you on the tarmac, airlines have been revising their Rules of Carriage and slowly editing out more and more passenger rights, according to Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org. While customer satisfaction is up (in June the airlines scored 67 out of 100 – the best in a decade) thanks in part to the Department of Transportation, the rules that govern you as a passenger are being tweaked without notice. (After all, how many times have you actually read the Rules of Carriage when you purchase a ticket?)

For example, some airlines contract out their airplane maintenance to a third party. If that third party can’t provide needed maintenance for some reason, the airline could consider that an “Act of God,” or in other words—something out of their control. This means the airline has no liability. Does this also mean that they won’t do anything to assist you? Probably not, but it does limit what they are required to do for you.

If traveling on the so called “low-cost” airlines you may have even fewer options. Since some low-cost airlines don’t have ticketing agreements with the larger carriers, they are under no obligation to find you another flight on a different airline if your flight is canceled for some reason. For example, in Southwest’s Contract of Carriage their only obligation, if a flight is canceled, is to put you on one of their own alternate flights.

For more information on your rights as a ticket holder, you can visit FlyersRights.org. While there you can also find information on current legislation, help for flyers with disabilities, what to do if you are stranded, and general news and information.

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More About Delayed and Canceled Flights From the EU

Several months ago I did a blog outlining your rights when traveling domestically according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Now, I’m going to address your rights when flying into, out of or within the European Union.  These rights may conflict with the ones that the US DOT has set in place and as a distressed traveler you have the option of picking the one that best serves your needs.
In 2005, the EU put forth new regulations for all airlines servicing the EU.  These regulations were designed to give passengers some relief when their flights are delayed or canceled and to help protect them if the passenger was bumped. I will give you a brief overview of them and provide you a link to follow if you want more detail.
If your flight is delayed or canceled or you are involuntarily bumped, the airline MUST provide the following, 2 telephone calls or a fax or telex or an email, at no cost to the passenger. If the flight is a short flight, less than 1500 kilometers these rules apply after a two hour delay, if it is a flight between 1501 and 3000 kilometers, then they apply after a 3 hour delay. In addition, after 2 hours the airlines must provide you with written information explaining your rights and what government entity to file your complaint with. You also are entitled to snacks and/or meals depending on the length of the delay. If you are forced to overnight, the airline is responsible for your hotel room. On short flights that are delayed 2 hours or more, you are entitled to cash or vouchers worth 250 Euros, on longer flights the amount is 400 Euros and up to 600 if it is a greater distance than 3000 kilometers. So if you are delayed you should be getting money or vouchers, if you agree to accept the vouchers, if you don’t want a voucher, then they pay in money, electronic funds transfer or bank check.
What happens if they don’t give you the full amount? You file a complaint with the appropriate government entity listed on your form that the airline has to give you and have them pursue the matter on your behalf. If you are entitled to 250 Euros and the airline only gives you 100 Euros, the governing body will go after the airline for the remaining 150 Euros. The airlines cannot get out of paying the full amount just by telling you that’s all they are going to pay. They are still responsible for the full amount.
If the airline offers to reroute you and the arrival time falls within certain guidelines as laid out by the EU, then the amount of compensation may be reduced by as much as 50%. Basically if the offered scheduled arrival time is within 2 hours for short, 3 hours for medium and 4 hours for long distance flights, then the airline can reduce the amount paid out.
If there is a weather delay that directly impacts your flight, the airline may not be responsible however it must be impacting the specific flight you are on, not a cascading delay.
If you are involuntarily bumped, you get the same compensation as those who suffer delays, plus a refund for the unused portion(s) of your journey, as well as assistance in rerouting you either back to your point of origin or to a point where you can resume your originally scheduled travel.
As you can see, by comparison, the EU is stricter than the US DoT when it comes to air passenger rights.
I will admit that I know that the airlines continue to ignore the EU regulations, even when they are fully aware of them. However if one has access to the regulations, one can generally get better treatment from airlines servicing the EU. And no airline servicing the EU has the legal right to ignore these regulations so if an employee tells you that their airline doesn’t choose to participate, feel free to point out to them that if they serve the EU, they agreed to these terms in order to get the right to do so.
Here are Christopherson Business Travel we hope you will never need to exercise these rights however it is better to know about them and not need them, than it is to need them and not know them.