Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials (updated): How to get compensated for that late flight under EU rules

(Editor’s note:  The first version of this post included contradictory information from EU websites. We’ve since consulted experts on EU Air Passenger Rights, and that information has been corrected.)

(Update: We used RefundMe to make a claim for our AirBerlin flight, which was delayed five hours in Boson. Basically, we chose RefundMe because they’re base in Potsdam, German, near AirBerlin, and because they pursue claims using legal teams. We have been notified by email we’ll receive 1,800 euros or a travel voucher for 2,250 euros, good for one year. We’ll pay RefundMe 450 euros for winning the settlement. The claim process itself was resolved in 16 days, and it will take about 30 for AirBerlin to process the payment.)

Ah, expats … we’re hitting the peak tourism season. Dispatches just got back from Dusseldorf Airport, and we can report flights from the northern climes to the Sunny South are packed. Which means there will be delays.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.02.07 AMAbout three months ago in the U.S, my wife and daughters got stalled for five hours waiting for  an AirBerlin flight from Boston to Dusseldorf. Yes, that flight originated in the United States. But because their destination was a European Union country, we’re eligible for up to 600 euros in compensation under the EU’s Air Passengers Rights legislation.

This is also a cautionary tale for the Brexit supporters as illustrated by Barbara Kollmeyer, one of my favorite reporters for MarketWatch, the Wall Street-based financial website that’s part of the Wall Street Digital Network. Kollmeyer’s point is, the E.U. – whatever its bureaucratic faults – is simply more consumer friendly than the U.S.

But she also makes the point that it’s so difficult to prove your delay was due to circumstances within the control of the airlines that entrepreneurs have created companies to guide passengers through the application maze including ClaimAir and RefundMe.

With both ClaimAir and RefundMe, they do the heavy lifting … and keep a significant percentage of your claim for their troubles.

(Kollmeyer writes this is far from a fringe business. Refunds involving delays of more than three hours is worth $6 billion a year, and RefundMe has helped 500,000 people world-wide!)

From ClaimAir’s “how it works” page on their website:

Tell us what happened

Input your flight data and answer several easy questions. Get to know what the airline owes you.

We do the hard work

Airlines often play tricky games. We’ll take care of the paperwork to get you your compensation.

Get paid

Once the airline pays us your compensation, we take 25% as commission, and immediately transfer you the other 75%.

Kollmeyer points out that RefundMe goes so far as to hire attorneys. If you don’t win, you don’t pay.

So, what do the EU air passenger rights legislation actually state?

Consumers have rights in the event of delays, cancellations and overbooking. They apply if you are:

• departing from any airport situated in the EU, or

• arriving in the EU with an EU carrier or one from Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.

Here are the most salient points, but you need to read the entire Air Passenger Rights page to understand all the fine print, exceptions and exemptions:

euflightRefund or alternative transport:

If you are denied boarding or your flight is cancelled or overbooked, you are entitled to either:

  • transport to your final destination using comparable alternative means, or
  • having your ticket refunded and, where relevant, being returned free of charge to your initial departure point.

Long delays – if your flight is delayed by 5 hours or more, you are also entitled to a refund (But if you accept a refund, the airline does not have to provide any further onward travel or assistance).

Your airline must inform you about your rights and the reason for being denied boarding, or any cancellations or long delays (over 2 hours, although this may be up to 4 hours for flights in excess of 3,500 kilometers).

Food and board

You may also be entitled to refreshments, meals, communications (such as a free phone call), and, if necessary, overnight stay, depending on the flight distance and length of delay.

Financial compensation

In addition, if you are denied boarding, your flight is cancelled or arrives more than 3 hours late on arrival at the final destination stated on your ticket, you may be entitled to compensation of EUR 250 – 600, depending on the distance of the flight:

Within the EU

  • 1,500 km or less – EUR 250
  • over 1,500 km – EUR 400

Between EU airport and non-EU airport

  • 1,500 km or less – EUR 250
  • 1,500 – 3,500 km – EUR 400
  • over 3,500 km – EUR 600y

Before we forget, if – as in the case of my family – does the airline botch the flight in the U.S. (exclusive of weather-related cancellations), you are entitled to a free hotel room and other compensation under U.S. rules. This is important to remember because demand for flights is at an all-time high while some airlines have been slow to add sufficient airlift.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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