EU 261

The American way of following European consumer protection laws

If I’ve seen Lee Wendkos’s case once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Delayed on his way to Europe, he tried to invoke EU 261, the legendary and often misinterpreted European consumer protection law. And he failed.

Yes, this feature is called Case Dismissed, but there’s a lot to be learned from our consumer missteps. With the busy summer travel season just around the corner, here’s one lesson you need to take with you: Airlines hate EU 261. Get every promise in writing or you’ll end up with nothing.
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Delayed on Alitalia, but where’s my check?

Neil Kyle is bumped from an Alitalia flight and then given the runaround when he asks for compensation under Europe’s consumer-protection laws. Is there any way to get him the 600 euros he’s owed?

Question: We were returning from Rome to Vancouver via Toronto last year when we were bumped from our flight by Alitalia. Alitalia rerouted us through London, where we ran into a great deal of difficulty, including a missed flight. Eventually, we caught a flight to Vancouver the next day.

Alitalia owes us 600 euros, according to the European consumer-protection rules. But the airline has provided an almost perfect case study of an airline employing delay and stonewalling techniques as a means to avoid its regulatory and legal obligations, and to wear down the complainants in the process.

There have been several emails exchanged among us, our travel agent and Alitalia. The airline doesn’t respond to the regulatory and legal-case information raised by us and our travel agent. We have filed a complaint with Canadian authorities, but we also would appreciate your assistance in dealing with Alitalia on this issue. — Neil Kyle, Port Coquitlam, Canada

Answer: You’re right. European regulations — specifically, a law called EU 261 — require Alitalia to compensate you for the denied boarding and delay. Instead, it appears to be giving you the brushoff.

It’s not difficult to see why. European airlines pay only a small percentage of the claims owed under EU 261. Most passengers don’t know of the rule, and it’s written vaguely enough that airline lawyers do an excellent job of convincing passengers that the airlines aren’t required to pay up.

Generally speaking, it also is true that airlines like to continue sending form rejection letters until you give up. That’s actually true for most businesses, not just air carriers. But airlines have perfected it, and no European airline seems to do it better than Alitalia.

A brief, written appeal to an Alitalia executive might have helped. I list each of their names and addresses on my website. But it’s been a while since an appeal to an Alitalia executive has been successful; I would have just sent it to the airline as a courtesy before taking it to the next level.

When an airline won’t budge, your final step is to take this issue to authorities. In addition to the Canadian Transportation Agency, I also might have considered contacting Italian regulators. (In the United States, you would have been able to complain to the U.S. Department of Transportation).

I contacted Alitalia on your behalf. It said that it also heard from Canadian authorities about your case. It apologized for the way in which it handled your claim and paid you the 600 euros you’re owed. It also promised to address your case with customer-care agents “to ensure we avoid similar mistakes in the future.”

Are Europe's consumer-protection laws fair to airlines?

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What’s the real reason for my flight delay?

Question: In late December, my Air France flight from Paris to Strasbourg was delayed because of an electrical problem. We returned to the terminal 2-1/2 hours later only to find ourselves stuck in a mess of weather delays and cancellations — with having to wait in a two-hour-long line multiple times — only to have each subsequent flight canceled.
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No compensation for Alitalia bird ingestion

Paul DiFeterici’s recent Alitalia flight from Miami to Rome was delayed by seven hours. “We were given a paper with information to contact Alitalia customer relations for compensation,” he says. He tried calling and writing to the airline, but no luck.

“I haven’t heard from them,” he says. “Would you be able to help me contact the correct people?”
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What would you do? My airline owes me €600 but all I’m getting is excuses

Timothy Delaney was on his way to his mother-in-law’s funeral in Addis Ababa when he encountered an unexpected delay: His Emirates flight from London to Dubai was canceled after a de-icer accidentally rammed his jet.

“Luckily, they managed to schedule another flight the next day,” he says. “However, I arrived more than 24 hours later than planned and had to spend nights in London and Dubai — on Emirates tab, but with some hassle.”

Emirates was correct to accommodate Delaney during this mechanical delay. But is he entitled to more?

His rights are outlined in EU Regulation 261/2004, the controversial European law that protects airline passengers.
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What would you do? No refund for a canceled Air Baltic flight

Editor’s note: I’m introducing a new feature — “What would you do?” — today. Here’s how it works: At 7 a.m. Eastern time, I present a case and ask you how you’d solve it. You can take a poll or sound off in the comments. At 5 p.m., I’ll reveal the poll results and tell you how it was resolved.

Sirje Viise and a friend were scheduled to fly from Tallinn, Estonia to Berlin by way of Riga on Air Baltic. They had booked their airline tickets through Expedia.

But something happened between Estonia’s capital and Germany. Viise believes an overbooking problem led to her delay at a stopover in Riga, and after some haggling with ticket agents, she and her companion were instructed to buy two new tickets on EasyJet for 256 euro each.

European law is clear about the compensation to which Viise is entitled in an overbooking situation: 2,000 euros for the two delayed flights and a refund for her unused connecting flight. But Air Baltic, whose slogan, interestingly, is “We Care,” had other ideas.
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Is this enough compensation? A $150 voucher for denied boarding in Bremen

Ted Oehlerking’s flight from Bremen, German, to Seattle, via Amsterdam was canceled all the way down the line. Although his airline, KLM, put him on the next available flight and upgraded him, it didn’t offer him any financial compensation for the delays.

Thing is, under EU 261, the European airline consumer protection law, his airline owed him €250 for the denied boarding actions and delays — and perhaps more. Here’s the full text of the rule.

It’s worth taking a closer look at how a regulation like this can affect air travel, since the Transportation Department is on the verge of creating a similar set of rules for the domestic airline industry. And it’s worth asking if there’s ever a point when enough compensation is enough.

A subsequent email to Delta Air Lines, KLM’s codeshare partner, generated a form-letter apology, agreeing that Oehlerking and his wife were, indeed, subject to EU compensation rules. It offered him either a €250 in cash or a €350 voucher for the canceled flights. Is that, plus the courtesy upgrade, enough?
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Flying to Europe? It pays to know EU 261

EU 261.

Mention the word to an airline employee, and you’re likely to get one of the following responses:

“We’re not going to talk about that.”

“No comment.”

“Sorry. Try getting in touch with IATA.”

Those are actual answers, the latter referring me to the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the airline industry. But my all-time favorite reaction came when I was touring the operations center of a certain airline that shall remain nameless. As we passed by the department that handled EU enforcement issues, I asked if I could talk with them about EU 261.
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Did Continental change a flight number and status to avoid EU compensation rules?

co2Helen Teresa Roberts believes it did when she flew from Rome to Newark this summer. After Flight 43 was canceled, Continental Airlines offered her overnight accommodations and 660 euros, in accordance with EU 261, the European Union’s consumer protection law for air travelers.

But the airline never made good on its promise. Instead, it appeared to backtrack, reclassifying the flight as “delayed” and reneging on its 660 euro offer. “They changed flight numbers and used the word ‘delayed’ in order to stonewall their customers from just compensation,” she told me. Roberts didn’t receive the miles for her flight, either.

Can Continental do that?
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