It is an unfortunate reality that despite all our efforts at planning a perfect holiday, things  may go  wrong  when we  least expect them, causing major  disappointment.  Airline delays, cancellations and lost or damaged luggage are all inconveniences which travellers may suffer from time to time. But is there some form of remedy?

European Law, through Regulation 261/2004/EC establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights gives EU passengers certain entitlements in relation to delay, cancellation and denied boarding. The regulation also applies to cost airlines and chartered flights.

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority is the National Enforcement Body responsible for the implementation of the law’s provisions in Malta: The MCCAA can be contacted on e-mail: airpassengerrights.mccaa@mccaa.org.mt

Written Notice

First of all, if your flight is delayed by two hours or over, or the flight is cancelled, or you are denied boarding you must be given a written notice setting out the rules for assistance under the Regulation. In addition, a sign must be displayed at the check-in area referring to air passenger rights under the Regulation. It is important that you (except in the case of cancellation) present yourself in time for check-in or, if no time is indicated, at least 45 minutes before the published departure time. 

Delays

If your flight is delayed by at least 2 hours, you are entitled to care and assistance.
If a flight is delayed by 5 hours or more, you have the right to request  a refund of the un-used part of the ticket should you decide not to travel  or alternative transport to your destination by the airline.

The Regulation applies to: delays of two hours or more in the case of flights of 1500km or less; delays of three hours or more in the case of all intra-EU flights of more than 1500km, and of all other flights between 1500 and 3500km; delays of four hours or more in the case of all other flights.

The care and assistance that you are entitled to consists of the following:

  • Free meal and refreshments
  • Two free telephone calls, faxes or emails
  • Free hotel accommodation if a delay means a stay of 1 or more nights is necessary.
  • Free transport between airport and accommodation

If you do not receive this assistance, you should write to the airline, enclosing all reasonable receipted expenses, seeking reimbursement.

EC Regulation 261/2004 does not specify that passengers are entitled to compensation if their flight is delayed. However, the European Court of Justice in the Sturgeon case has held that a long delay of at least three hours entitles passengers to the same compensation as if the flight was cancelled.

Cancellation

If an airline cancels your flight, you have the choice of either a full refund of the unused portion of the ticket or another flight/alternative transport to the final destination. You are always, if you are awaiting alternative transport by the airline, entitled to care and assistance, taking into account the waiting time.

  • Free meals and refreshments
  • Two free telephone calls, faxes or emails
  • Free hotel accommodation if a delay means a stay of 1 or more nights is necessary.
  • Free transport between airport and accommodation

If you do not receive this assistance, you should write to the airline, enclosing all reasonable receipted expenses, seeking reimbursement.

In addition, you are entitled to compensation for cancellation which is calculated according to the distance of the flight:

Thus, for flights of 1,500km or less, you are entitled to €250; €400 for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;  and €600 for all other flights.

However, you do not have the right to compensation by the operating air carrier if:

  1. you  are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure; or
  2. you are informed of the cancellation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing you to depart no more than two hours before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival; or
  3. you are informed of the cancellation less than seven days before the scheduled time of departure and are offered re-routing, allowing you  to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled time of departure and to reach their final destination less than two hours after the scheduled time of arrival.

Note: passengers are also NOT entitled to financial compensation if a flight is cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’, that is, circumstances which are beyond the airline’s control. These may include bad weather, political unrest, a security threat, unexpected flight risk or strikes. 

Overbooking

It is not uncommon for airlines to overbook in order to compensate for the risk of no-shows, that is, travellers who do not turn up either because they decide not to fly or  decide to change their schedule. However, this does not exonerate the airline from providing a remedy to inconvenienced passengers.

When a flight is overbooked, the airline must call on passengers to offer to give up their seats to other passengers. If volunteers come forward, they are entitled to a sum of money or other benefits to be agreed between the airline and the passenger. They also have the right to choose between an alternative flight or a refund of the ticket. The airline may refuse to board passengers if an insufficient number of volunteers come forward. It is obliged, nevertheless, to   offer refused passengers an alternative flight or refund of the un-used portion of their ticket. The airline must also offer the passenger compensation for their inconvenience as follows:

  • €250 for flights of 1,500km or less
  • €400 for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
  • €600 for all other flights

If you are denied boarding, you have the right to care and assistance, or an alternative flight if you have chosen this option.

  • Free meal and refreshments
  • Two free telephone calls, faxes or emails
  • Free hotel accommodation if a delay means a stay of 1 or more nights is necessary
  • Free transport between airport and accommodation 

Package travel

If you are denied boarding on a flight that you have purchased from a tour operator as part of a package tour, which combines flight and accommodation, the airline is obliged to compensate the tour operator who has concluded a contract with you. The tour operator must respect its contractual obligations stemming  from the contract it has entered with  you when it sold you your package tour and these rights are also protected in European law. Thus, the tour operator is obliged to pass on to you the compensation paid by the airline to it.