Compensation for cancelled flight: EU 261

Is anyone familiar with EU 261 - a law which entitles Europeans and supposedly anyone flying from Europe to compensation for a cancelled or delayed flight? My United airlines flight from Milan to the US was delayed 21 hours due to mechanical problems. According to the law, Europeans are entitled to 600 euros in CASH pp for this delay. I am a US citizen but according to some things I've read, we are entitled to the same compensation because we were in Europe while we were delayed. Needless to say, the compensation offer we got from United was nowhere near this amount. (They paid for our hotel room, buffet dinner and offered us a $200 voucher for each of us toward a domestic flight during the next 12 months).
I emailed their complaint center last week but haven't heard anything. If anyone reading this has any experience or insight with this law I'd appreciate hearing about it.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

Someone sent me a private message with a couple of links and it looks like the law really does apply to my situation. I'm sure United knows that some people will know or find out about it and the $200 voucher was their version of a pre-emptive strike against people pursuing more. I think every person on that flight, European or otherwise, is eligible for the 600 euros. For me, it comes down to whether or not they could have prevented the mechanical failure with more proactive maintenance of the aircraft. I don't want the compensation if this was one of those things that could not have been prevented no matter what they did ahead of time. If that's the case, I'm just grateful they found it before the plane took off. I don't know if there's anyway to know the reality though.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

and you will prove that - how? How much will your legal case pursuing it cost?

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Yes you should be entitled to the same rights as an EU citizen. Here is a link for the EU Commissions Mission to the USA, where you can make a complaint if your rights are not being recognised. The EU takes a very dim view of airlines that flaunt their laws, so informing United that you have filed a complaint might get the reaction you require.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2172 posts

The famous directive EU 261 applies to flights departing from an EU airport (I don't know if CH, N and IS have signed up on this directive as well) regardless of nationality of passenger or "flag" of the airline. The most adequate moment to claim its benefits is at the airport, before departing.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
772 posts

EU 261 is a known cost of business for airlines operating within and leaving the EU. The cost of servicing EU261 claims for any competent airline will factored into the ticket price, either indirectly, or in the case of some low cost airlines explicitly in a non-voluntary add-on. I wouldn't mind being charitable to airlines in their misfortune if they were equally charitable to me if I ask them to do something outside of their terms & conditions. I guess everyone can weigh up his or her experience on that kind of thing. There is no get-out on mechanical failure of any kind, unless it was an act of sabotage, or a recall / grounding ordered by the manufacturer or regulator in cases of previously unknown defects in that particular plane model - or some other thing that is clearly outwith the airline's control. United should have provided you with details of how to claim too - it shouldn't be a complicated matter nor a double secret.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

The only thing broken is United. No one needs a 300 dollar an hour lawyer for a 600 euro claim.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3064 posts

We had our luggage lost for 3 full days when we arrived in Europe. Someone at the airport told us to just buy everything we needed and submit receipts to (whatever airline it was). I was rather doubtful, but we needed clothes so went out and bought the whole fam new stuff which was quite an expense. Submitted the paperwork which was a ROYAL hassle and received a check that covered EVERYTHING 100%. Yes, our luggage did eventually arrive, travel laws protecting consumers in the EU seem to be WAYYYYYY better than what we have here in the USA. So yes, EU airline regulations are much more traveler friendly.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

This is exactly why our welfare system is broken... I'm with Nigel. If you're willing to pay a lawyer to prove a point, go for it, but IMO, United gave you more than ample compensation. Good luck. This has nothing to do with welfare systems and everything to do with an airline that is flaunting the laws under they have been licensed to operate.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. I have no doubt now that I am entitled to the same compensation as the EU folks. There is also no doubt that the delay/cancellation is one that qualifies for the compensation and I will not have to "prove" anything. The last thing I have no doubt about is, that no matter what happens, I'm not going to hire a lawyer! It definitely not worth it to do that. I am really struggling with the moral aspect of this though. I think there is something to James' analogy of doctors fees being driven up by litigious people. Its true. Its also true that sometimes doctors are careless or arrogant and sometimes people are really hurt by them and they deserve compensation.
Believe me - I'm not comparing this to medical malpractice but we were hurt in a way by the long delay (for one thing, I had to take an additional vacation day and that translates into real money). Again, if United was negligent then I want the money and I will pursue it. If the mechanical failure is something that no amount of proactive maintenance could prevent then I don't want it. How will I know though? I doubt that I can and we just have to decide whether to pursue it. I think I need to let it "marinate" a bit longer though.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

@James - WOW, it takes a travel forum to conflate the rationale for welfare, doctor pay, malpractice insurance against bodily harm or death vs airline insurance to merely compensate inconvenience and opportunity cost of the traveler's time...are those even on the same wavelength? Where to begin? First, malpractice insurance is hardly the key driver for physician compensation (it's marginal at best) - the main factors are high barriers of entry, unusually high (and costly - in the US) levels of education, time commitment, and skill to enter the profession, and restricted supply of candidates for medical school and residency slots, and a high level of judgment and direct effect on others' physical well-being not easily replicated in other professions. Second, "society" does not "reward the victims" when it comes to malpractice claims..read 'em and weep (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3204310/)..while the risks of claims are relatively high depending on specialty, actual payouts are abysmal. So much for coddling victims..yes, this is counter-intuitive to the mantra that's put forward too often. And I guess if you're willing to take the $600 in spite of your high morality over nanny states and such, does that make you a dependent too?

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
960 posts

Just a personal observation about this forum. It never ceases to amaze me what kind of responses a particular post is likely to generate and you sure can't tell by the subject line. I guess that's why I read them all, you never know which are going to be the 'interesting' threads. I've learned a bit reading this one so I'm glad I did. Thanks for the post Lisa.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

BTW, when Delta lost our luggage, we were reimbursed 100% for the clothes we had to buy to get through the week.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

Thanks for that link Agnes. We were informed of the mechanical problem after they shut the cabin doors. We were informed of the cancellation about 3 hours later. The flight was delayed 21 hours. This situation definitely fits the criteria for the maximum compensation. I think the only question that remains is whether or not United is going to argue that the compensation is only for Europeans. I think that is what they are arguing but no where on the document does it say that.

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
257 posts

Good luck Lisa - it sounds like you have a strong case! Sorry you had such a bad ending to what I'm sure was a great trip!

Posted by JER
Seattle, USA
981 posts

Lisa, you are absolutely within your rights to demand the compensation that is due to you. We were delayed by United in Chicago two years ago for over thirty hours. While they did eventually offer hotel vouchers for the night, most of the passengers didn't get theirs till nearly dawn, and we had to go back to the airport at 9 am supposedly to board our new flight, which in the end didn't leave till seven that night. Welfare, schmelfare, I was lied to, jerked around, spent most of the night crowded into a gate area without enough seats for all the passengers, and lost the first night of my London hotel which cost me almost 300 dollars. Frankly, 600 euros would have hardly compensated us for what happened. As it was, United took the position that they didn't have to pay because it was a US flight to Europe rather than the reverse. I let them know that from now on, I wouldn't bother flying United from the US, since its European partners do compensate for Euro-bound delays as well as US bound ones. In my opinion, EU 261 just redresses the imbalance in the rights and obligations of airlines with their passengers. Here in the US, the airlines take the position that the customer who buys a ticket will forfeit it if for whatever reason they cannot use it, however sympathetic their emergency might be. ON the other hand, the airlines maintain that they have no obligation whatever to get you to your destination at the appointed time. "You must fly at the ticketed time or else. We, on the other hand, will get you to your destination at our convenience, whenever we feel like it." They can cancel or delay for any reason, or just because they don't think there are enough passengers on that particular flight. And they don't feel the slightest obligation to keep you informed about whether or when your flight will actually leave. At least EU 261 gives them an incentive not to screw around like that.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

Dawn- it really wasn't so bad. For one thing, we arrived home safely. A little aggravating as we wanted, needed and expected to be home but we didn't have to sleep in the terminal.
JER - It sounds like your experience was much more unpleasant. Did they tell you directly that you were not eligible for compensation? So far (almost two weeks after I filed a complaint) they are ignoring me. The automated response I received said they respond to complaints filed after travel is completed in the order in which they were received. The mind boggles...

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

@James The only winners here are the lawyers (and yes, I said it before in this thread), the dependents that rely on their nannies to protect them from the evils of capitalism. There is no need for lawyers on this one, a complaint to the EU Commission will be taken seriously and followed up with the airline. If that fails then the next step would be the European Ombudsman - again no lawyers involved. It is not how we do things over here - lawyers are for criminal cases and perhaps for business matters, but in most private matters you can do it yourself - civil law is rule based hence it is easier for the people to understand and follow rather than common law.

Posted by Angela
Eau Claire, WI, United States
51 posts

Lisa-I really hope you hear back from United soon and with good news. We flew with them in February just to Florida and had a terrible delay experience and were offered $150 when the delays ended up costing us more than that in missed experiences that were reserved alone. I didn't have the law you cite on my side, but still pursued it and could never get anything other than an automated response and couldn't reach any "live" people. I agree with the poster who suggested resolving this in the airport if possible--that will be my plan in the future. My plan is also to avoid flights with United! But, I had flights to Europe in July booked with them already...so one more trip with them and I hope we are lucky enough to avoid the terrible delays and poor customer service they are notorious for! Wishing you the best in getting a response!

Posted by kat
parkdale
197 posts

Good luck Lisa! I am w/ Mme. Eli and Bets regarding United. In order to reduce the chances of problems along with no discernible customer service, I start by NOT buying a ticket on United. A $200 voucher to fly United AGAIN would be worthless to me. Since we're talking rules.......I don't recall the specific rules of a delay, but after a specific amount of time the airlines are required to provide you with a toiletry bag. Keep us informed on how this works out for you.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

I wonder how often airlines on the hook for compensation because of rules violations try citing some "exceptional circumstances" clause to reject claims, even when they were clearly in the wrong for something like a maintenance delay. My guess is that they try this tactic all the time to avoid paying out. Don't forget that we now have similar consumer protections in the U.S. – must deplane after 3 hours delay, must provide food & drink after 2 hours, $400 for being bumped on domestic, $800 for being bumped on international. You need to follow a bunch of detailed rules, but that's the high-level. As far as I know, claims are filed right there on the spot with the airline. The airline must provide you with a written copy of your rights. BTW, lawyers aren't really all that bad (or at least you probably won't think they're so bad when you personally need a good one). :)

Posted by Linda
Bromley, Kent,, UK
1630 posts

In March our British Airways flight to Naples was cancelled when we were sitting in the Departure Lounge. We eventually flew 24 hours later. I downloaded a claim form from the BA site and we got our compensation a week later. My view is that it is a means to discourage airlines from cancelling at short notice. In this case we were not given a reason for the cancellation, the ground staff were very evasive, but I suspect that the flight was not full and they worked out that it was cheaper to cancel and pay any compensation claimed. I also suspect that not everyone claimed because we were not told about our rights to compensation, I just happened to know about them. Here in the UK the usual advice if airlines don't play ball is to go to the Small Claims Court (which is a cheap and easy process and no lawyers involved!). Experience has shown that the airlines usually give in before it gets to a hearing.

Posted by Paula
Arlington, TX, USA
278 posts

Lisa, you are too kind! I wish you had been a passenger on the airline I worked for! The compensation is part of the Conditions of Carriage and since you have rules you must follow as a passenger, why not file the claim and accept any compensation you are due? Many passengers incur expenses in this type situation; hotel cancellations, food, phone calls, loss of time, etc.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Here in the UK the usual advice if airlines don't play ball is to go to the Small Claims Court (which is a cheap and easy process and no lawyers involved!). Experience has shown that the airlines usually give in before it gets to a hearing. Too many complaints has an impact on licensing and new route allocation, at least here in Europe - as my old accounting useded to say "hanging concentrates the mind". Almost all European countries have some form of small complaints process, not involving lawyers. I don't know if that is the same in the USA.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

There are 'Small Claims Courts' in the U.S. I just found an interesting website - SueTheAirlines.com - where there are actual cases that were brought and won. http://www.suetheairlines.org/index01.htm On another site there's a description of a case where a woman tried to file in Small Claims Court in her jurisdiction. The airline disputed by saying their "contract of carriage" specified that any lawsuit had to be brought where the airline's headquarters are located. The woman withdrew the suit because the extra cost to refile was not worth it to her. She felt she had "gotten her revenge" against the airline when her story was written up and appeared in the online New York Times and over 100 people wrote comments appended to the article saying they would never fly that airline again. (I'm not advocating suing, only sharing found information. The OP has said she's not interested in hiring an attorney, but this thread contains valuable info that other people may read in the future.)

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Suing is such an extreme option - it should be commensurate with the amount of suffering. Inconvenience is not insufferable - surely a price tag can be attached to it and resolved directly with the airline. If I was royally stiffed, I would quantify my costs first and then negotiate with the airline, especially if you have leverage as one of their loyal frequent fliers or status awards people. A single individual engaging in a suit probably won't work in anyone's economic interest.

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

I received a response from United. Predictably, they were "unable" to increase the compensation. So now I have to decide what to do next. Let it go or push onward. If I elect to push on, do I write them back and threaten to contact the European Commission or just try to contact the Commission first. Actually, I tried several times to file the complaint but I was not able to get the page to submit. They have a "live chat" feature which I may try on Monday.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Hi Lisa, at least file your complaint with the DOT..that part should not be much work and they do monitor and aggregate complaints - if nothing else, you'll contribute to a body of knowledge the government has against various airlines. That helps everyone in the end. http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint The other thing you may try to do is to talk with a manager at United instead of someone who can blow you off easily. In my experience I had more success being nice and appealing to their business sense than coming off angry and embittered. Of course you can mention that you really don't want to file a complaint against them, but they should understand....

Posted by Lisa
New York, USA
72 posts

I would really love to have something in writing from the EU COMMISSION stating that US citizens are also covered by EU 261 when the law is applicable before I do anything else.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Lisa, it looks like it's not so cut and dry. According to this article from 2012, United already was sued for trying to abridge this law. If the outcome was in their favor, I'm guessing you're not going to have much luck. This is exactly what's wrong with this country - corporations come before people and regulation to rebalance the skewness is not popular (and so it's weak or non-existent). I think it's a long shot that the EU will go to bat for you if your own government won't. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-09-14/lifestyle/35497527_1_consumer-protections-flight-cancellations-air-travelers

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

Lisa, I am watching a show (Envoye Special) on TV5Monde, the French chanel, where a French woman has been trying to get 261/2004 compensation from Ryan Air for three years. A member of a French consumer organization called the ministry of something or another and was told the complaint has to be filed in the country where the flight originated. Hers originated in Sweden, yours in Italy. Hopefully the Italian Consulate in NY can give you the information you need so you can make your claim.

Posted by Crash
Vance, Alabama
145 posts

I'm with Nancy from Oregon. These threads wobble along on the tracks in a certain direction and then BAM! Derailed with Socialism, Marxism, Fascism, and other isms, American bashing, Canada bashing, Pat bashing, health care, lawyer bashing...... Love it. It's like theatre!
I must quote Ferris Bueller at this point. "Isms in my opinion, are not good."

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
772 posts

United don't seem to have updated their own advice within their pages (http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/destination/international/eudenied.aspx) to reflect the outcome of Sturgeon v Condor, Nelson v Deutsche Lufthansa AG and TUI Travel, British Airways, easyjet and IATA v Civil Aviation Authority, all of which upheld that delays resulted in compensation payments as well as duty of care in all but exceptional circumstances, mechanical problems not being one of them. The list of national enforcement contacts there is also woefully out of date; try this one instead: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/passengers/air/doc/2004_261_national_enforcement_bodies.pdf There is a standard EU complaint form to send to the enforcement agency if you are not satisfied with the airline's reply: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/passengers/air/doc/complain_form/eu_complaint_form_en.pdf