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TRAVEL NEWS

Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Summer is up, tourism is recovering from pandemic years, and people are stuck at chaotic airports. Here are your rights if something goes wrong.

Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Strikes, a shortage of staff and an excess of travellers after the coronavirus pandemic are just two of the ingredients behind the chaos in many European airports ahead of the main summer holidays.

As people are travelling again, visiting friends and family and taking the holidays that were postponed several times, they have had to face long queues, delays, and even flight cancellations.

The good news is that the European Union has strict regulations protecting consumers, including those buying plane tickets.

If you have faced issues with your flight, here are your rights and how to get compensation, according to EU legislation.

First things first: is my trip covered by the EU legislation?

EU air passenger rights apply to you if your flight is within the EU or Schengen zone, if it arrives in the EU/Schengen zone from outside the bloc and is operated by an EU-based airline, or if it departs from the EU/ Schengen zone.

Additionally, the EU rights apply only if you have not already received benefits (including compensation, re-routing, and assistance from the airline) for this journey under the law of a non-EU country.

What if my flight is from the UK to an EU country?

Since January 1st 2021, the bloc’s rules and rights do not apply to cancellations or delays to flights from the UK to the EU or to those passengers denied boarding on these flights if the flight was operated by a non-EU carrier.

However, according to the rules, if your flight arrives in the European Union and is operated by an EU airline, or if you are flying to the UK from an EU country, then you are entitled to the same rights.

READ ALSO: LATEST: Italy scraps all Covid entry rules for travellers

The European Union comprises the 27 EU countries plus the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin as well as the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands (but not the Faroe Islands). The rules also apply to flights to and from Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

What about return flights?

The EU says: “The outbound and return flights are always considered as two separate flights, even if they were booked as part of one reservation.”

It’s not uncommon to book with one airline and then the flight to be operated by a different carrier, sometimes a partner line. In this case, all compensation requests should be directed to the operator, rather than the company you booked with.

The EU says: “In case of any difficulties only the airline which operates the flight can be held responsible.”

This would affect whether you are entitled to compensation if you booked with an EU-based carrier but the flight was actually operated by a non-EU carrier.

What happens if my flight is cancelled?

In case of cancellation, you have the right to choose between getting your money back, getting the next available flight, or changing the booking completely for a later date. You are also entitled to assistance free of charge, including refreshments, food, accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), transport, and communication (two telephone calls, for example). This is regardless of the reasons for cancellation.

If you were informed of the cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date, you also have a right to compensation, except if the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances” (see below for explanation of “extraordinary circumstances”.

The table below from the Europa.eu website shows the amount of compensation you are entitled to in the case of cancellations within 14 days of departure.

Often the airlines might not make this clear to you

What if my flight was delayed?

Your rights and compensation will depend on the duration of the delay and the distance of the flight.

If an airline expects that your flight will be delayed beyond the scheduled departure time, you are entitled to meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time. It starts at two hours for shorter flights (distance of 1,500 km or less), three hours or more for longer flights and a delay of four hours for all other flights.

You should make yourself known to the airline so that they can provide you with the necessary vouchers and information.

If you arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

READ ALSO: Fixed machine ‘will cut wait time for Swedish passports’

The compensation will be €250 for short flights, €400 for longer flights and up to €600 for flights covering more than 3,500 kilometres.

What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?

It can get tricky to understand your rights when most of the things you are entitled to depend on whether or not the cancellations and delays were due to extraordinary circumstances.

According to the EU, examples of events defined as extraordinary circumstances are “air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions and security risks”.

However, most technical problems which come to light during maintenance are not considered extraordinary circumstances, and staff shortages would also usually not be classed as extraordinary circumstances – but it remains to be seen if widespread shortages around Europe over the summer achieve this classification.

Still, the airline needs to prove that the circumstance caused the delay or cancellation and that delays or cancellations couldn’t have been avoided “even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

Strikes?”

Workers’ strikes – a pretty regular occurrence in certain countries (looking at you, France) – may be considered extraordinary circumstances”.

So passengers won’t normally be eligible for compensation.

The website flightright.com writes: “In this case (strikes) airlines are under no obligation to pay out compensation to customers. Strikes, whether they be carried out by the airport staff or the airline staff, fall under this category and as such passengers should not expect to have a valid claim.”

However there are some exceptions.

For example “if your flight does not fall within the immediate strike period, but is cancelled due to the impact of the strike, it is worth checking your entitlement to compensation,” explains flightright.com.

“For example: if all flights are taking off and landing on schedule again after the strike, but you are denied boarding, then there is a good chance that the airline will have given your seat to a passenger who was directly affected by the strike. This means that the airline would be denying you the right to board against your will, which could entitle you to compensation.”

READ ALSO: Germany to relax travel restrictions for summer

​​If the airline does not provide a satisfactory explanation, you can contact your national authority for further assistance.

My luggage was lost, damaged or delayed.

Unless the damage was caused by an inherent defect in the baggage itself, the airline is liable. You have the right to compensation up to approximately € 1,300.

“​​If you want to file a claim for lost or damaged luggage, you should do it in writing to the airline within 7 days, or within 21 days of receiving your luggage if it was delayed. There is no standard EU-wide form.”, the EU site adds.

What other rights do I have?

If you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked, you have the right to choose between reimbursement, going on the next flight or rebooking the journey at a later date. You are also entitled to compensation and assistance from the airline.

READ ALSO: ‘We will be understaffed this summer’ warn French airport unions

In case you are downgraded, you are entitled to reimbursement of a percentage of your ticket price, depending on flight distance, and reaching 75 per cent.

Where should I complain?

Your first point of contact should be the airline itself. However, if you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact your country’s European Consumer Centre for cross-border flights or a national consumer centre for domestic trips.

If you think you’re liable for compensation from your airline, you can file an official EU airline complaint form.

Other ways to claim compensation

Even if you are not entitled to compensation from the airline, there might be other ways to get refunds and money in case of flight cancellation and delays. 

Besides using private travel insurance, many credit and debit card companies and banks offer automatic travel insurance if you purchased a ticket with them. In some cases, you might receive cash payment for delays and cancellations even when they were due to “exceptional circumstances”.

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For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it also has a great location right in the centre of Europe, making it an ideal starting point for train travel. Here are five destinations you can reach in less than five hours from Zurich.

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

As summer is still in full swing and there are many vacation days (or free weekends) to enjoy the sunny weather, it’s not the wrong time to do some travelling. Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it’s also centrally located in Europe. This means that many major European cities are reachable in just a few hours.

If you are located in Zurich, for example, then you are very near Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. In less than five hours, visiting beautiful cities in these five countries is possible by taking a comfortable train ride.

So, select your final destination, get your ticket, and enjoy the ride.

READ ALSO: Switzerland’s ten most beautiful villages you have to visit

From Zurich to Strasbourg

It will take you just about 2 hours and 30 minutes (including time to stop and change trains in Basel) to get from Zurich’s mains station to the beautiful and historical city of Strasbourg, in northeast France.

Prices vary depending on several factors, but we found one-way tickets for just around CHF 23 on a Friday.

From Zurich to Munich

The capital of Bavaria can be reached from Zurich’s central station on a direct train in just 3 hours 30 minutes, allowing for short stays.

Munich may seem quite far away on a map, but the fast trains without stopovers actually make the journey quick and pleasant. We found one-way tickets for around CHF 70 on a Friday trip.

From Zurich to Vaduz

The capital of Liechtenstein is easy to reach in less than 2 hours from the Zurich central station. In fact, some journeys will take just about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The lovely town bordering Switzerland has many tourist attractions, from its pedestrian historical centre to castles and parks. Train ticket prices always vary, but we found tickets for a one-way journey on a Friday costing CHF 20.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

From Zurich to Milan

Depending on the train you take, you can get from Zurich to Italy’s fashion capital in three to four hours with a direct train.

Before 2016, when the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened to rail traffic, a trip from Zurich to Milan took an hour longer. It’s possible to find tickets for about CHF 70 for a one-way trip on a Friday.

From Zurich to Innsbruck

From Zurich, it is possible to hop on a direct train and, in just over 3 hours and 30 minutes, arrive in the beautiful town of Innsbruck, in the mountains of Tyrol.

Ticket costs vary, but we found tickets for a relatively short-notice one-way trip on a Friday (without discounts) for CHF 84.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Cost:

Fares depend on several factors, such as time of the day and day of the week when you travel.

While a rock-bottom cheap fare may be available one day in the morning, it won’t necessarily be offered the next day (or week) in the afternoon, or vice-versa.

Prices also depend on whether you are entitled to any discounts and which wagon you choose.

If you are interested in travelling farther afield, including with night trains, or if you are in other Swiss cities, these articles provide more information:

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