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If you’re heading for Europe this summer—which many of you will do despite high airfares—you should know that you have quite a few rights, including some that are better than those you enjoy here at home.
If your flight is disrupted for any reason, including weather, your rights under European regulations include:
- 1. A full refund if you elect not to travel
- 2. Re-routing to your final destination at the airline’s earliest opportunity or a later time if you choose
- 3. Meals and refreshments if you choose to wait for the next flight
- 4. Hotel accommodations if you have to wait overnight.
Those requirements are considerably stronger than those in the United States, where similar rights are only those that the airlines include in their contracts of carriage. And, specifically, the only right you have here in the event of a weather disruption is either a seat on the next available flight or a refund.
If your flight is canceled, you are entitled to either re-routing or a full refund, plus the disruption provisions noted above. In addition, if rerouting results in a delay in reaching your destination, the airline must pay you anywhere from €125 to €600 (about $175 to $845, see XE.com for current exchange rates), depending on the length of the delay and the length of the flight. The payment provision exempts airlines if the cancellation is due to weather, political instability, strikes, and a few other events. Also, this provision is limited to flights departing from an airport in the European Union (EU) or flights into a EU airport on a EU-based airline.
European overbooking rules parallel those in the U.S.: If you’re bumped from a flight due to overbooking, the airline owes you rebooking or refund plus cash payments of between €125 and €600, plus disruption expenses per above. These rules also apply only to flights departing from an airport in the European Union or flights into a EU airport on a EU-based airline.
European airlines are unhappy with these requirements and some lines are legally challenging them. Meanwhile, reports from last winter’s bad weather delays and cancelations indicate that some airlines were less than forthcoming about their obligations, especially to American and other non-EU travelers who might not have been aware of the rules. Apparently, U.S. airlines were even less forthcoming than their European competitors. The fact is that, no matter your citizenship, you’re entitled to full protection of the EU requirements when you fly within and from EU member countries or to Europe on an EU line.
EU rights extend to credit card purchases as well. As in the U.S., European consumer banking laws cover suppliers’ failure to deliver on a promised service. When you buy with a credit card, regulations hold that a consumer may place equal liability with a seller on the credit card company. Specifically, consumers can hold the credit card company equally liable for any breach of contract (faulty goods, non-delivery of items, poor services, or misrepresentation and such). This is just another strong reason to use a credit card—not a debit card or cash—for any important purchases overseas.
At this point, I’m not aware of similar specific requirements outside Europe. In general, however, Australia and New Zealand are quite pro-consumer; other areas are iffier. That’s why I recommend that you arrange as much as you can through travel companies based in the U.S. or with a significant presence in the U.S. Dealing with a U.S. presence is especially important for local accommodations— hotels, vacation rentals, and such. In the event you have a problem with a small, independent hotel outside the country, recourse is almost impossible.
For more information on your rights in the EU, visit the European Consumer Centre website.