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 that travellers may encounter from time to time. However, is there some form of remedy?

Through Regulation 261/2004/EC, European law establishes 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 concerning 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.

When you purchase a flight ticket departing from EU airports, you should be informed about the applicable terms and conditions. The final price should always be indicated and broken down to include the airfare, and applicable taxes, fees or charges which are unavoidable and foreseen at the time of publication.

Once at the airport, the air carrier shall put a clearly legible notice containing:

“If you are not admitted onto your flight, if it is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check–in desk or the boarding gate for the text that lists your rights, particularly pertaining to compensation and assistance”.

You are entitled to care and assistance depending on the time delayed and distance of the flight with:

  • 2 hours for flights up to 1500 kilometres;
  • 3 hours for flights within the European Union or flights of more than 1500 and 3500 kilometres;
  • 4 hours for flights over the distance of 3500 kilometres.

If a flight is delayed by 5 hours or more, you have the right to request a refund of the unused part of the ticket should you decide not to travel.

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

  • Free meal and refreshments;
  • Two telephone calls, two faxes or two emails;
  • Free hotel accommodation if a delay means a stay of one (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. The amount compensated depends on the time the delay takes and the distance of the flight.

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 entitled to care and assistance if you are awaiting alternative transport by the airline. The care and assistance entitle you to:

  • Free meals and refreshments if delayed for 2 hours or more;
  • 2 free telephone calls, faxes or emails if delayed for 2 hours or more;
  • 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 you are seeking reimbursement from, enclosing all reasonable receipted expenses.

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

  • You are entitled to €250 for flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
  • You are entitled to €400 for flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres;
  • You are entitled to €600 for all other flights.

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

  • You are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure;
  • After you are informed of the cancellation of the flight and an alternative flight is provided between 2 weeks and 7 days, before the flight, with the departure time of the alternative flight being less than 2 hours earlier than the cancelled flight or has the delayed arrival of less than 4 hours;
  • After you are informed of the cancellation of the flight and an alternative flight is provided in less than 7 days before the flight, the departure time of the alternative flight is an hour earlier than the cancelled flight or has the delayed arrival of less than 2 hours;
  • After you are informed of the cancellation of the flight and an alternative flight is provided in less than 7 days before the flight, the departure time of the alternative flight is an hour earlier than the cancelled flight or has the delayed arrival of less than 2 hours.

Note: If the airline proves that the cancellation was due to exceptional circumstances (extraordinary events such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, political instability, bad weather, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings or strikes), the airline is not at fault.

My flight is overbooked. What are my rights?

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

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will call on passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. If volunteers come forward, they are entitled to a sum of money or other benefits as 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. Nevertheless, it is obliged to offer refused passengers an alternative flight or refund of the unused 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 any other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

If you are denied boarding or have decided to voluntarily delay your flight for someone else to take your place, 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.

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

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will call on passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. If volunteers come forward, they are entitled to a sum of money or other benefits as 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. Nevertheless, it is obliged to offer refused passengers an alternative flight or refund of the unused 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 any other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • €600 for all other flights.

If you are denied boarding or have decided to voluntarily delay your flight for someone else to take your place, 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.

You are protected against discrimination based on nationality, place of residence or disability when you buy a ticket or during travel. You enjoy the same rights as other passengers, and you should be allowed to travel without any difficulties and at no extra cost. In fact, according to Regulation 261/2004, air carriers shall prioritise persons with different abilities and any persons or certified dogs to accompany you.

Air carriers and travel agents may only refuse to take you onboard if it is physically impossible given the size of the aircraft or the size of the doors makes it impossible; or because in doing so, the air carrier would breach health and safety requirements established by competent authorities. If your reservation is refused for security reasons, you can choose between a full refund of the ticket price or re-routing to your destination.

You have the right to assistance at all EU airports when boarding or leaving an aircraft and during the flight. Request for the provision of lifts, wheelchairs or other assistance needed shall be offered free of charge. You must make the request no later than 48 hours before the time of the booking.

If you consider that this Regulation was infringed, you may bring the matter to the attention of the managing body of the airport or the attention of the air carrier concerned. If you are not satisfied with how the complaint was handled, you can file a complaint with the competent body designated by the Member State.

If you are offered a re-routing to the final destination on an alternative flight, the arrival time is not exceeded:

  • By 2 hours for flights of 1,500Km or less;
  • By 3 hours for intra-community flights of more than 1,500km or for any other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km;
  • By 4 hours for all other flights.

The operating air carrier may reduce the compensation (€250 – €600) by 50%.

EU rules on air passenger rights do not apply to cases of denied boarding, cancellations or delays to flights from the UK to the EU if your flight was operated by a UK carrier or another non-EU carrier, even if the flight was booked before the 1st of January 2021. However, if an EU carrier operated your flight from the UK to the EU, EU rules still apply unless you have already received compensation or benefits under UK law.

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 deriving from the contact entered with you, which rights are also protected in European law. Thus, the tour operator is obliged to pass on to you the compensation paid by the airline.

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