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.

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Can Continental do that?

I reviewed the documents sent to me by Roberts, and indeed, they included letters from Continental in which it calls her flight “delayed” and admits that its staff “made the statement of EU 261 of rights available at the gate.” Subsequently, the carrier appears to back away from that statement, changing the flight numbers and saying that “further compensation is not forthcoming.”

I asked Continental to review her appeal. It sent her the following response:

Your case has been reviewed again at the request of National Geographic Traveler magazine. After further review, we have credited the missing miles to your OnePass account, as you requested.

Per previous discussions, no further actions will be taken.

Though we consider this matter closed, we value your business and will be happy to address any of your future travel related concerns.

It’s nice to have a few miles back in the account, but it would be even nicer to have the 660 euros that Continental promised Roberts this summer. And that isn’t going to happen.

Here’s the sad truth about EU 261: Even though it’s a terrific consumer protection law, and even though the courts have upheld a strict interpretation of it, airlines commonly ignore it.

I believe Roberts is owed 660 euros. But I also have a stack of other cases from other airlines, in which the airline turned down a legitimate request for compensation under EU law.

Her only option is to sue Continental in Europe, and she and the airline know that she’s not going to do that over 660 euros.

Until someone goes to court, this is likely to continue.

(Photo: phinalanji/Flickr Creative Commons)

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