In 2004, the European Union adopted tough new airline passenger rights regulations, and ever since then, it seems that air carriers have been trying to reinterpret the law to their advantage. As a result, I’ve received more than my fair share of questions about the rule, called Regulation (EC) No 261/2004.
Here are a few things you need to know about rule 261:
1. It applies to any EU airline flying from and to Europe. I’ve heard some airlines tell passengers that EU 261 doesn’t apply to them because they started their trip in the United States. Nonsense. Paragraph 6 states, “The protection accorded to passengers departing from an airport located in a Member State should be extended to those leaving an airport located in a third country for one situated in a Member State, when a Community carrier operates the flight.”
2. Charter or scheduled? It’s all the same. Another favorite loophole for airlines is to say it was a charter flight. Not so in Europe. See paragraph 5: “Since the distinction between scheduled and non-scheduled air services is weakening, such protection should apply to passengers not only on scheduled but also on non-scheduled flights, including those forming part of package tours.” (But see paragraph 16 for an important exception.)
3. If your flight is canceled, you’re owed a refund — or a flight you like. I’ve heard from some passengers who say airlines try to give them vouchers when a flight is canceled. That’s not how it works. See paragraph 13: “Passengers whose flights are canceled should be able either to obtain reimbursement of their tickets or to obtain rerouting under satisfactory conditions, and should be adequately cared for while awaiting a later flight.”
4. No surprises! Is your flight on time? Was it canceled? Who knows! EU 261 says you airline has to tell you. Carriers must, “inform passengers of cancellations before the scheduled time of departure and in addition to offer them reasonable rerouting, so that the passengers can make other arrangements,” according to the rule.
5. You have the right to know. Often, airlines like to keep passengers in the dark about what their rights are. But that’s wrong, according to EU 261, paragraph 20. “Passengers should be fully informed of their rights in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, so that they can effectively exercise their rights.”
If you’re flying on a European carrier, consider making a printout of this important rule. Don’t let the airlines — or even me — tell you what’s in EU 261. Read it yourself.