This weeks Whine Wednesday is about a topic that often rightfully enrages people: Airlines purposely lying to their customers when pressed upon their Duty Of Care such as hotels and meals during irregular operations.
Irregular operations can be delays or cancellations based on a variety of circumstances including the current Lufthansa pilots strike that affects worldwide routes.
Over the course of the last few weeks we have been monitoring the social media websites of airlines (especially Lufthansa) even more than usual just to get a feel for how they handle the current situation and what is the quality of their assistance given online.
Airlines more often than not try to admit to less responsibility for passenger accommodation after irregular operations than they are really obliged to provide. Carriers subject to the generous European EC261/2004 regulation have a general duty of care for their passengers and that can get expensive quickly when customer insist on receiving this protection.
An interesting example is the current Lufthansa pilot strike. We found the following conversation taking place on the Lufthansa Facebook page:
A Lufthansa customer who got stranded in Barcelona during the current strike complained that the LH Hotline was not reachable and neither any contact on Spain. He inquired about the reimbursement of a local hotel for 2 nights.
Lufthansa answered that hotel expenses will not be reimbursed by Lufthansa and linked to the passenger rights page (access here) which shows exactly the opposite to be the case.
If your flight is cancelled or is subject to a long delay, or if you are denied boarding on a flight for which you hold a valid reservation, you are entitled to certain rights in accordance with the EU Regulation 261/2004, which entered into force on 17.02.2005. The airline which carries out the irregular flight is responsible for granting you these rights.
The Regulation applies to passengers departing from an EU airport or departing from an airport outside the EU when carried by an EU carrier, unless they received benefits or compensation and were given assistance in that third country,
In accordance with the EU Regulation a delay occurs when a flight is delayed beyond its scheduled departure time by 4 hours for flights of more than 3.500 km, by 3 hours for flights between 1.500 km and 3.500 km as well as intra-Community flights of more than 1.500 km, and by 2 hours for flights of up to 1.500 km. When your flight is expected to have a long delay, passengers are entitled to receive care while waiting.
This includes: meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time, hotel accommodation if necessary including transfer costs and the option of making two brief telephone calls or sending two short faxes or e-mails.
If your flight, for which you hold a valid reservation, is cancelled, you are entitled to re-routing, care, refund and compensation as laid out here above. You are not entitled to receive a compensation if the cancellation is attributed to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Examples include bad weather conditions, political instability, strikes, security, risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings.
The last paragraph is important. While the passenger will not receive the cash compensation for delays/cancellations resulting of force majeure they are still entitled to care and re-routing to the earliest convenient (for the passenger – not the airline) flight which doesn’t have to be the same airline or alliance.
Again, care as outlined above includes: Meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time, hotel accommodation if necessary including transfer costs and the option of making two brief telephone calls or sending two short faxes or e-mails.
Airlines often try and lie to the passenger that they aren’t responsible for these things just as in the Lufthansa case above. You sometimes have to be really aggressive and if possible present the airline employee with the EU Law as reference. Airlines are also required to give you a leaflet with your passenger rights once you are affected.
It’s an absolute must to know what you’re entitled to and stand up for it until the company relents. This is valid not only in travel matters but all parts of daily life.
I found that airlines are rarely forthcoming in offering the correct services per EC regulation and try to cheapen out wherever possible. Of course you have to do the math here, if they can avoid paying proper compensation and care to tens of thousands of passengers every year that savings amount is huge. I’d estimate that the average EU airline from the size of Lufthansa, British Airways or Air France/KLM is turning annual savings in the 8 digits by being a bit flexible with the truth and the law.