If a flight departs too late, this can cause stress and frustration for the people concerned. Not only can this cause unbearably long waiting periods at the airport, but the delays can have serious knock on effects for passengers. Business travelers might miss important appointments at their final destination. Often a small delay on your first flight leg can have an impact on your connection flight. When the delayed connection is a feeder flight for another long-haul flight, passengers ultimately run the risk of missing these long-haul flights and facing severe issues and set-backs.
In cases there is no alternative flight on the same day or even the following day, either because the route is not being flown on a daily basis or because all the seats are already booked, passengers are forced to be patient as they remain at the mercy of the airline.
In terms of enforcing your flight compensation claims most passengers don’t have the legal knowledge or ‘know how’ in dealing with this. However, when airlines are quality and service-oriented this will not matter as friendly flight attendants or airport staff will be on hand, proactively informing affected passengers. The same cannot be said for low-cost airlines, where often personal support is lost to automatic scoreboards and goodwill is replaced with deliberate deception and a denial of rights.
Therefore, if you are well versed with passenger rights, you will have a clear advantage when facing such a situation. This will also enable you to maintain a level head when the situation gets hectic, ensuring you follow the best possible course of action. Here we have gathered all the important information for you, so that you can prepare yourself for any eventuality.
Is my flight delayed or not?
Nowadays, the EU regulation on passenger rights regulates which rights and obligations apply to passengers and airlines in the event of flight delays. However, the definition of a flight delay and what this contains was not always clear, ultimately resulting in repeated legal disputes.
A flight delay is generally defined by a later than planned ‘arrival time’. The issue herein surrounds the interpretation of arrival time – does this constitute touching the runway, reaching the final parking position, opening the doors or even reaching the airport building via shuttle bus connecting aircraft and terminal?
In extreme cases, an hour or more may pass between these different events. If there is additionally a delay in the final arrival time, legal claims are often quick to arise. The European Court of Justice has finally clarified this position with precedent laid down in a case between Lufthansa subsidiary Germanwings and a passenger.
According to this ruling, a flight shall be deemed to have arrived when at least one of the aircraft’s doors is opened and passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft. It is therefore conceivable that even when an aircraft reaches its destination on time, it may still be considered delayed if other circumstances force passengers to remain longer in the aircraft before disembarking. When flight delays occur, passengers may be eligible for EU delay compensation payment, however passengers will not be entitled to claim a full reimbursement of the ticket price.
Delays of all kinds are a common occurrence for any airline. With many thousands of connections per year, even the most punctual airlines experience late arrivals. In the following table we have compiled the punctuality of the most prominent airlines with the total number of flights for July 2017 – the peak flying season of the year. Check it out and see for yourself what airlines are performing very well in the punctuality ranking and what airlines you might want to avoid in the future, if punctuality is a critical factor for you.
Statistics on airlines with flight delays
(source: OAG and analysis of MFLYRIGHT)
|Code||Carrier||Flights 07/2017 (#)||Punctuality rate 07/2017 (%)|
|AB||Air Berlin||12 354||54%|
|AF||Air France||30 059||67%|
|OS||Austrian Airlines||12 284||76%|
|BА||British Airways||32 225||76%|
|SN||Brussels Airlines||7 590||70%|
|DE||Condor Flugdienst||4 583||81%|
|OK||Czech Airlines||3 134||75%|
|IB||Iberia Airlines||18 683||82%|
|KL||KLM Royal Dutch Airlines||22 657||84%|
|LO||LOT Polish Airlines||9 581||63%|
|LX||Swiss International Air Lines||12 833||70%|
|TP||TAP Portugal||11 713||54%|
|MT||Thomas Cook Airlines||4 728||73%|
|VY||Vueling Airlines||20 359||81%|
|W6||Wizz Air||15 602||80%|
Flight delay: Refund or compensation?
As a rule, there is usually no refund for the original ticket in the event of flight delays. However, the EU Passenger Rights Regulation defines a possible airline compensation for delayed flights in a staggered scheme. When there is a flight delay the compensation value will be based on various factors as per the EU regulation on passenger rights, such as flight distance and number of hours of the flight delay.
Furthermore, EU 261/2004 regulation will apply to all flights departing from EU based airports even if the responsible airline does not originate from the EU. This would include for example American or Chinese airlines offering flights from the EU. In terms of incoming flights to the EU, the EU rules will only apply if the flight is operated by an EU-airline. The decisive factor here is the airline’s place of business. It must be noted that regardless of the origin or place of business of the airline, any flights operating within the EU region will be subject to the EU compensation rules and regulations.
Which flight routes are applicable for a compensation?
(e.g. Lufthansa, British Airways)
(e.g. United Airlines, Emirates)
|Flights within the EU
(Munich → Barcelona)
|Flights into the EU
(New York → Dusseldorf)
|Flights outside the EU
(Hamburg → Moscow)
If you miss the connecting flight
A passenger may end up missing his connection flight due to a delay of an earlier flight. If a passenger accepts an alternative connection flight they may still be entitled to a compensation. The compensation can be owed if the flight arrives at the final destination with more than three hours delay, the prerequisite however is that both flights were booked together as one trip.
In these instances, airlines cannot force you to accept an alternative connection that departs anytime later than the original scheduled time. After all, it is quite conceivable that you may not be interested in a later flight if this means you will miss an important appointment or for other reasons. This rings true most specifically in cases where it takes up to several days to get an alternative flight.
In some cases it is advisable to change to alternative transportations, such as train or bus, which are often provided by the airline. For these reasons the airline has to let you choose between:
Reimbursement of the fare and earliest possible return flight to the departure airport.
The earliest possible re-routing to your destination (later connecting flight).
A rebooking to a later date of choice under comparable conditions of carriage based on seat availability.
Compensation payments according to the EU Passenger Rights regulation
Generally speaking if a passenger’s flight is delayed by 3 hours or more and not caused by extraordinary circumstances, the airlines have to compensate the affected travelers. The EU regulation on passenger rights specifies mainly three different compensation amounts depending on the flight distance.
Passengers travelling up to 1 500 kilometers can claim 250 EUR in compensation for delays.
If the flight covers more than 1 500 kilometers within the EU, the airline has to pay 400 EUR for a correspondingly long delay.
This will also apply if the delayed flight takes off or lands at an airport of a non-EU country and the distance lies between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometers.
Passengers experiencing a four hour flight delay on a long distance flight over 3 500 kilometers (not within the EU) have the right to get a compensation of 600 EUR.
If a passenger on a long haul flight (not within the EU) experiences only a 3 hour delay – compensation liability will still hold up but only to 300 EUR.
Airline compensation for delayed flights:
Entitlement for assistance and meals
Whether in the event of a delayed departure of an individual flight or a forced waiting period for a replacement flight for a missed connection, the airline must provide additional support and catering. There are different time limits for this, depending on the distance:
For routes up to 1 500 kilometers, the obligation to provide food and beverages triggered by a delay of two hours or more.
For flights within the EU spanning over 1 500 kilometers or for incoming / outgoing flights in the EU covering 1 500 to 3 500 kilometers, the airline must provide food and beverages by a three hour delay.
If a flight with a distance of more than 3 500 kilometers spans beyond the EU border, you are entitled to assistance and food by a four hour delay.
Compulsory catering services must include free meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time period. The legislation does not provide specifics however it is common practice that a warm meal be considered appropriate for a waiting period of half a day. Generally, airlines distribute vouchers for this purpose, which you can use to purchase food and beverages at certain kiosks and restaurants in the airport. If the planned departure is postponed to the following day, the person concerned is additionally entitled to a free hotel room and transfer to and from the hotel.
Overview of additional services in case of flight cancellation:
Telecommunication — 2 free phone calls, faxes, or emails
Meals and refreshments
No compensation in case of extraordinary circumstances
The EU passenger rights regulation makes provision for ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and similar to ‘arrival times’ this provision opens a wide-berth for interpretation. Extraordinary circumstances are generally those which, despite conscientious management and through no fault of the airline, make it impossible for the airline to carry out the flight without delay. The EU flight passenger rights regulation makes some mention of this in stating that ‘the air carrier concerned must take all reasonable measures to prevent delays or cancellations of flights’. However, what is meant by reasonable measures is not defined in the regulation. This lack of clarity and certainty often calls for a judge to determine the existence of liability based on whether the airline has taken all necessary measures.
This does not apply to extraordinary circumstances which generally cannot be avoided by certain measures. The EU passenger rights regulation provide a number of scenarios which might be considered as extraordinary circumstances such as political instability, severe weather conditions, security risks, unexpected flight safety problems and strikes affecting the operation of an airline.
In cases of doubt, the disputes between passengers and airlines appear before the courts, which are decided based on the exceptional circumstances put forward by the airline and if it has met the required reasonable measures. Fortunately, a number of judgements have already been laid down for individual cases that air travelers can use to orient themselves. Below are the most frequent examples:
Flight delay due to bad weather:
Extremely bad weather with such poor predictability is considered to be an extraordinary circumstance. For example, airlines are helpless against sudden extreme rainfall that delays the take-off of a plane. Lower temperatures that lead to icing of the wings are however not considered as an extraordinary circumstance. In 2013, the Brandenburg Higher Regional Court in Germany ruled that every airline must prepare its aircraft appropriately for winter conditions and also take precautions with sufficient de-icing agents. If an airline runs out of de-icing fluid due to poor planning, it cannot claim exceptional circumstances.
Announced and ‘random’ unofficial strikes:
Generally, striking by air traffic controllers and pilots is considered to be an extraordinary circumstance. If a flight arrives late based on this reason, the affected airline does not have to pay compensation.
However, one exception to this rule may be ‘random’ unofficial strikes, in which a large number of airline employees suddenly report sick, thereby impairing flight operations. Although there is no uniform assessment of what can be defined as called a random strike, some recent judgments have provided direction on this. The airline must prove that employees who had been scheduled for a specific flight and did not take part in this particular flight had reported sick. In two separate German rulings, passengers were awarded compensation, even though the airline argued the situation of an official strike.
Unfortunately, collisions with swarms of birds are not uncommon in flight operations. These can cause severe damage to an aircraft, causing it to be completely inoperable or in need of damage repairs. The German Federal Supreme Court in 2013 recognized this as an extraordinary circumstance and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed this legal opinion in May 2017.
In light of this the ECJ has however declared that airlines must do everything it can to prevent delays resulting from a bird strike. This requires well organized inspections and repairs. If the delay due to a bird strike is partly caused by the airline’s poor organization and management, the passengers concerned may still be entitled to compensation. Unfortunately, the details of such a situation are not immediately obvious to travelers, which is why such cases are likely to end up before the courts.
To be fair it can be said that delays are not solely caused by the airlines but by a combination of factors. Management and procedure at airports play a significant role when it comes to flight delays. For example, at the Hanover Airport, almost 90% of all flights arrive and depart on time. In contrast is Düsseldorf’s mega hub, which is the third largest airport in Germany, punctuality of connections is at only 56,2%. That airport-size alone cannot be the sole contributor to these delays which can be seen from Munich Airport, which scores significantly better with a punctuality rate of 70%. The following table gives an overview of how punctuality differs at the most prominent German airports.
Statistics on delays at German airports
(Source: OAG and MFLYRIGHT analysis)
|Code||Airport||Passengers 2016 (#)||Arrival on time 07/2017 (%)|
|SXF||Berlin Schönefeld||8 526 268||76,9%|
|TXL||Berlin Tegel||21 005 196||57,5%|
|BRE||Bremen||2 660 754||84,0%|
|CGN||Cologne Bonn||10 338 375||91,2%|
|DTM||Dortmund||1 985 379||87,3%|
|DRS||Dresden||1 722 863||79,9%|
|DUS||Düsseldorf||22 476 685||56,2%|
|FRA||Frankfurt||61 032 022||64,1%|
|HHN||Frankfurt–Hahn||2 665 105||77,7%|
|HAM||Hamburg||15 610 072||73,6%|
|HAJ||Hannover||5 452 669||90,8%|
|FKB||Karlsruhe / Baden-Baden||1 051 435||67,5%|
|LEJ||Leipzig / Halle||2 317 255||70,4%|
|MUC||Munich||40 982 384||70,1%|
|FMO||Münster / Osnabrück||817 049||85,0%|
|NUE||Nuremberg||3 381 681||68,2%|
|PAD||Paderborn Lippstadt||771 749||72,3%|
|STR||Stuttgart||10 512 225||86,2%|
|NRN||Weeze||1 909 704||87,1%|
Flight delay compensation claim deadlines
Those who are affected by a delay and are entitled to compensation payments usually do not need to hurry to enforce their claims, although bearing in mind that according to the European Court of Justice deadlines will be based on national law. In most EU countries, the deadlines are sufficiently long and allow affected passengers several years to claim their right. In Germany for example, compensation claims for delayed flights are valid three years backdated.
Therefore, there is no reason to become stressed at the airport or during the trip regarding compensation claims. The best course of action is to claim the payments after a successful return trip home. It is however, advisable to gather receipts, documents and other evidence at the airport which may help to support your case. Photos with time stamps, pictures of display boards or screens can also be helpful. Especially in unique cases where you have to wait for a long time in an already parked aircraft before you are actually permitted to exit the plane. Any additional proof can be particularly helpful in building your compensation case.
MYFLYRIGHT offers you assistance with your case, helping you avoid the bureaucratic upheaval and incessant effort it takes to obtain your rights and compensation – even a long time after the incident. Next time your flight is late, airline compensation payment might be just a click away on myflyright.com.