In a move that could have implications for U.S. travel agents with clients headed to Europe, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that airlines must compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations caused by airline staff strikes. The ruling applies to all airlines passengers flying to the European Union (EU), on an EU airline or from any country within the EU – including passengers from the United States.
While the ruling won’t allow travel agents to file for compensation, which can run up to $700, on behalf of their customers, they can guide clients affected by strikes through the process.
“Travel agents cannot file on behalf of their customers; affected passengers must file for compensation on their own,” Henrik Zillmer, CEO of flight compensation company AirHelp, tells Travel Agent.
The ruling is retroactive, Zillmer says, meaning that agents can help clients who have experienced flight disruptions over the past three years due to airline staff strikes and have not had their claims already decided by a court may be entitled to as much as $700 in compensation.
The ruling applies to all travelers on flights to the EU operated on an EU airline, and all flights departing from the EU on any airline. The disruption must meet the following criteria:
Flight was delayed by three hours or longer
- Flight was cancelled, and the passenger does not arrive at their final destination within two hours of their original scheduled arrival time. Passengers do not have a right to compensation if passengers have been notified about the cancellation 14 days before the scheduled flight.
- Passenger was involuntarily denied boarding. This now includes the cases which airline strikes occur, and count as cancelled flights.
- Passengers affected by strikes in the United States, however, cannot claim compensation, because those are covered under U.S. law.
“U.S. regulations differ from EU regulations, as there are significantly stronger consumer protection laws in the EU than there are in the United States,” said Zillmer. “For example, while passengers on EU flights are eligible to claim compensation under European law EC 261 for lengthy delays, cancellations or boarding denials due to overbookings, the U.S. does not have equivalent consumer protection laws for flight disruptions. It is important to note that the recent ruling on airline staff strikes only applies to EC 261-eligible flights, and does not impact US airline regulations. However, it does apply to U.S. airlines flying from the EU.”
U.S. passengers can only claim compensation from airlines under national law for the following situations:
- Denied Boarding: If a passenger’s flight was overbooked, that passenger could claim up to $700 for domestic delays of less than 2 hours (but more than 1 hour) and $1,350 for international flight delays longer than 4 hours.
- Baggage Issues: If an airline loses or damages a passenger’s checked baggage, that passenger may be eligible to claim compensation of up to $3,500 under U.S. law. Passengers should hold onto all baggage receipts and keep a list of items in checked baggage, as this will help support their case in filing a compensation claim, Zillmer said.
AirHelp reports that it offers an online tool, launched earlier this year, that enables travelers to check their flight history over the past three years to see if any of their flights are eligible for compensation claims. Once the tool is connected to their inbox, AirHelp will notify users of current eligibility, and update them on future eligibility as soon as flight disruptions occur.