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.

After being scheduled for a flight the next day, we returned to the airport only to find our new flight delayed three more hours. We then opted to take advantage of a deal Air France was offering to travelers to cancel their tickets for a full refund.

We wound up taking a train to Strasbourg.

I sent an e-mail to Air France in late January, detailing the above events and requesting a refund for the tickets, as well as reimbursement for the one night of lodging in Strasbourg that I had to forfeit due to the mechanical failure of the plane. I received an autoresponder, but nothing else. A month later, I emailed again — same answer.

Today I received a form-letter reply from Air France that said my flight was canceled because of weather and that it isn’t responsible for my expenses. They didn’t even bother to read my letter. Can you help me with this refund? — David Ludt, Shrewsbury, Mass.

Answer: Air France should have refunded your ticket promptly. When a flight is canceled — no matter what the reason — the airline owes you either a full refund or a new flight of its choosing.

Unfortunately, the airline isn’t required to refund you for any expenses incurred because of the delay, including the lost night in a Stasbourg hotel.

Under EU law, however, you’re owed cash compensation for your mechanical delay. The airline should have also paid for a hotel in Paris, as well as offered you meal vouchers.

The full text of the law, called EU 261 can be found here.

Air France appears to have cleverly dodged EU law by labeling this as a weather delay, which is half true. Your flight was originally delayed because of a mechanical problem but then canceled because of weather, by your account. Had Air France designated the flight a mechanical delay, then it would have owed its passengers very generous compensation.

Having access to a copy of EU 261 at the time of your delay may have made a difference. Politely confronting a ticket agent with the information that your flight was delayed for mechanical reasons and that the law required it to compensate you might have given your story a happier end.

When your airline doesn’t listen to you — as it appears Air France did — then you can also appeal your case to a manager. I list several on my wiki.

I contacted the airline on your behalf. Air France apologized and refunded your ticket.

  • That’s so frustrating when companies try to dodge their responsibility. I’m curious about the “deal” to refund tickets, though. Surely they would’ve printed some type of notice to give out to pax? But all together annoying to be in that situation and lose out on the hotel. I’m curious, though. Where did the OP stay the night in Paris? If the airline put them up, then de facto it’s agreeing that it’s a mechanical delay. Otherwise, doesn’t that open up a whole new can of worms if the airline didn’t put them up for that night?

  • JT

    Heck, they do it in the USA too.  I’ve had a number of flights where they’ve given my plane (already on the ground) to another flight, had “weather” delays when the plane is there and other airlines are going to the same destination and other outright lies trying to avoid compensating passengers for delays.

  • TonyA_says

    Perhaps Chris Elliott should put up an EC261 Claiming Service (much like a NON PROFIT outfit) for Americans traveling in Europe. He can accept donations to perpetuate his cause and advocacy.

  • Bob

     Compensation isn’t required in the US (for cancellations) so this isn’t an issue anyways.

  • Bob

     Airlines need to give you a hotel for a weather delay as well (but OP needed to ask for it). So it a hotel was give it doesn’t mean anything other than that Air France was following that part of the EU regulations.

  • Lindabator

    No they do NOT – that is a force majeur, and the airlines are NOT responsible for the weather delays/cancellations, so a hotel is the client’s responsibility.  HOWEVER – that being said, if you are nice to the desk agents, they can bend that rule if they still have money in the kitty for the day.  BUT – you have to be nice about it.

  • Alan Gore

    Paris to Strasbourg – wouldn’t be easier, and faster door-to-door, to take the train? And no matter what the weather, you would actually get there.

  • Chasmosaur

    Oh the airlines will always do that.

    In 2005, we got caught in that union “Oh, are we having a slowdown around Christmas? We didn’t MEAN to” thing that happened to NWA.

    Our flight to Syracuse from MSP was cancelled after a 6 hour delay because they couldn’t provide a full crew – we were short one FA who called in sick, and they were trying to find one who wouldn’t go into OT.  As we were sitting next to the bored members of the flight crew, we heard the logistical struggles – they tried to get three different FA’s in that slot before they finally found one coming in on a flight from elsewhere.  But ultimately, the final FA they tried to fill our plane couldn’t make our flight because HER flight was cancelled by weather, so they cancelled our flight.

    We rescheduled and then asked where they were going to put us up – this was a cancellation that actually didn’t have anything due to weather delay.  They didn’t even want to give us any vouchers for food – they kept warning us to stay near our gate as we could board at almost any time, so everyone was starving – or a hotel, saying that last associated flight that contained a potential FA made the whole thing a weather delay.

    I had to stare down the rep until they concurred it was actually their fault for staffing issues, not weather delays.  Talking to people from our flight throughout the following day, we were the only ones who managed to get NWA to pay for our hotel room or give us food vouchers for inside the airport.

  • IGoEverywhere

    This is a lame article. Weather delays do not get any compensation anywhere any time. I have begged some compensation for clients with about a 50% success rate. Agents work for their clients and when you do things online, you get the shaft!

  • jm71

    The initial delay wasn’t a weather delay though; it was mechanical.  And even for a weather delay, the customer is entitled to not fly and get a full refund they so choose.

  • This concerns me. In my years of flying I have never had a problem. Most I have waited for a delay is 30 min. I’ll be traveling with young kids this Summer and really need to print copies of EU 261 with me!

  • $16635417

    The procedure set up by Air France for receiving a refund looks pretty straightforward, but does not involve sending an email. Perhaps the refund would have been processed faster had that procedure been followed?


  • Michael__K

    Invariably some delays (like this one) will have multiple genuine causes.  Sometimes none of the causes alone would have resulted in an overnight delay, but in tandem they do.

    Are there any rulings/precedents which specifically address delays with multiple causes?

    The English text of the EU261 law linked to the article states:

    (15) Extraordinary circumstances should be deemed to exist where the impact of an air traffic management decision in relation to a particular aircraft on a particular day gives rise to a long delay, an overnight delay, or the cancellation of one or more flights by that aircraft, even though all reasonable measures had been taken by the air carrier concerned to avoid the delays or cancellations.

    Seems to me that the OP has a good argument that the 2 1/2 hour electrical delay meant that Air France failed to meet the “all reasonable measures” condition.

    It also strikes me as inappropriate if the categorization of these multi-cause delays is left entirely to the airlines’ discretion and interpretation.  It puts them under pressure to either push the envelope towards the least consumer-friendly interpretation or else surrender a competitive advantage to their less scrupulous competitors.

  • Michael__K

    Also, since the OP was travelling less than 1500 kilometers: if the electrical delay was more than 2 hours, it would seem he should have been eligible for compensation for that delay alone.

  • TonyA_says

    I’m sorry but most folks here do not understand EC261.
    The Right to Reimbursement or Rerouting and the Right to Care is NOT A COMPENSATION as in the Right to Compensation.

    In the EU, when your flight is delayed for at least two hours, the Right to Care kicks in. When you flight is cancelled the Right to Care also kicks in together with the Right to Reimbursement or Rerouting.

    If your flight is rescheduled overnight, then the Right to Care specifically states that the airline must provide hotel accommodations and transport to and from the airport in addition to meals and (2) free phone calls, telex, faxes, or emails.

    It is important to understand that the reason for the delay or cancellation is IRRELEVANT (i.e. weather, volcano, etc.), the airline is always in the hook for the Right to Care and the Right to Reimbursement or Rerouting.

    Now in addition to the above, there is a Right to Compensation (Article 7 of EC261) for EUR 250/400/600. I will not get into the details here, however, the airline can be exempted from paying this compensation if it can prove that the cancellation (and delay) is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
    The Right to Compensation is not relevant to the OP’s case since the rolling delays and cancellation were due to weather.

    The OP’s flight was first delayed (for more than 2 hours), then cancelled. Since the flight was rescheduled the next day, then if the OP opted for re-routing (or rescheduling), then Air France should have given him a hotel accommodation. However, if he opted for a refund on the day of cancellation, then Air France had no further obligation other than to return his money within 7 days and to offer him meals and refreshment and the free phone call while he waited during the delay and up to the cancellation announcement.

    From what I read, the OP actually stayed overnight BEFORE Air France offered a REFUND. That said, the overnight stay should have been provided by Air France as per Article 9, 1(b) and 1(c). Later when they offered the refund, they should have handed forms that provided information how the passengers can get their money back within 7 days.

    In my opinion, Air France failed in both counts. They returned his fare late (and only after the help of Chris) and did not provide him with a hotel accommodation.

  • Sunnykm

    What is the rule domestically? I was delayed over two hours for a mechanical problem and missed my connecting flight home. American put us up in a hotel and rebooked the ticket for the next day. Was I entitled to a flight voucher as well?

  • Owassonian

    In this case, I am glad OP was aware of the sneaky behaviour on behalf of the airlines and caught it. What about the hundreds of the rest of the passengers who did not claim the full refund and related expenses allowed by EU rules? Air France must have saved a lot of money by not abiding the law and being irresponsible about its unfair dealings with its own customers. Would the EU regulatory body or DOT consider this a business malpractice without each of the passengers having to complain?

  • CAEmigirant

    In the US, laws regarding all passenger compensation were passed after hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of testimony about airlines’ practices of lying to customers to both houses of Congress and probably hundreds of thousands of letters. Res ipsa locatur!

  • TonyA_says

    Since David Ludt opted for the Full Refund, then IMO this did not apply. Had he stayed on the delayed flight, then he may have been owed compensation (EUR 250). Of course the airline would argue that part of the LONG delay was due to weather. That’s why I used the word “may”.

  • TonyA_says

    Well, we do not have an equivalent of EC261/2004 in the USA. We do have compensation rules for IDB if you are bumped. And, we do have baggage compensation rules. That’s mostly it for compensation to the PAX. A sad state. Most US airlines will feed you (if your flight is delayed) and put you up in a cheap hotel overnight IF the delay is THEIR FAULT.

  • TonyA_says

    I guess you know more about EC261 than the above travel agent. Good for you.

  • jm71

    Why the snark?  All I was pointing out was that this wasn’t a simple weather delay that does “not get any compensation anywhere any time”; it was originally a mechanical delay.  Yes, I understand the further delays were weather, which may or may not be relevant to compensation.

    But even if weather, the consumer is entitled to not fly and take the refund (Air France even offered such, but didn’t follow through); that, as far as I know, is true anywhere in the world as a basic consumer law, not EC261 specific.

  • TonyA_says

    Not a snark, but a compliment! I meant it literally. You do know more than a (typical) travel agent about EC261.

  • jm71

    Sorry, that makes sense; didn’t mean to be oversensitive!

  • flutiefan

     NO. this is clearly specific for EU countries… in Europe.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Don’t rely on Airlines or UE261 rules, provide yourself a good travel insurance who usually reimburse all expenses for travel iinterruption, delay and lost luggage, etc…. American Express have a reasonable price plan for unlimited multiple trips under 2 weeks for each trip and covered the whole year.

  • andrelot

    Irrelevant to the issue…

    In any case, when you have some connecting flight, it is always more practical to continue through your final destination on a plane than change to another mode of transportation.

    Trains are more dangerous as well, they have 4x more fatalities per passenger-mile.