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Getting Reimbursed For Travel Mishaps
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The delight felt in finding cheap travel deals, such as cheap airplane tickets, discount hotel rooms, cheap auto rentals, discount travel packages, and cheap vacation packages sometimes dims quickly after having to deal with delayed or canceled flights.
American travelers booked on flights that are canceled or delayed must frequently accept whatever alternative flights airlines offer, even if they result in passengers getting stranded at an airport for days. U.S. airlines are not required to reimburse passengers on delayed or canceled flights, whereas the opposite is true in Europe.
In Europe airlines are required to compensate passengers up to 600 euros ($791), based on the length of the flight and the length of the delay. The European Union’s passenger rights law (EC 261) even requires payment when passengers are given little advance notice and must take earlier flights.
EC 261 is enforced on any airline departing from the European Union, including American airlines, and European airlines flying to or from Europe. Adopted in 2005, similar rules have since been extended to anyone traveling within Europe by rail, ship, or bus.
Although this law stipulates that travelers be given greater protection in Europe than in the United States, often airlines on both sides of the Atlantic have resisted paying some of these benefits and passengers often do not even know these rights exist. In order to receive compensation passengers must file easy to complete claim paperwork.
Some airlines have proven better than others at paying claims. Often final payment depends on the persistence of the victim making the claim.
One excuse for resisting payment is disagreement over who should be held responsible for stranded travelers when a major disruption occurs such as the volcanic ash cloud that resulted in over 100,000 flight cancellations in Europe in 2010.
Recognizing the unfairness of holding the airlines liable for unlimited compensation due to factors beyond their control, the European Union has proposed changing the law to limit airlines’ liability to three days of lodging and meals due to circumstances beyond their control. Included in this proposal are provisions to strengthen the oversight and enforcement of the claims process.
Currently the European Commission is seeking to inform travelers about their rights through public education campaigns and a free app that outlines the rules.
Lawsuits have been filed that hopefully will clarify how passengers can collect compensation under EC 261 from resistant airlines, including at least six cases pending in the United States.
There are instances when travelers can collect refunds or compensation in America, but airlines seldom offer reimbursement up front. U.S. airlines sometimes will respond positively when asked for reimbursement, depending on the circumstances. Generally speaking airlines are inclined to respond positively to customer complaints concerning delays caused by circumstances within their control such as a mechanical problem or a crew delay not due to weather or airport closure.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is expected to shortly announce a proposal for its third round of passenger protections, which will focus on how code share partners and fees are disclosed when people reserve a flight. The first set of rules, rolled out in 2010, set limits that significant reduced long runway delays. The second round of rules required airlines to display and advertise the total cost of a ticket, including all mandatory fees.
DOT has stated that it is not considering a rule that would spell out how airlines must accommodate passengers on delayed or canceled flights. However airlines are required to outline how they handle such situations in their customer service plans.
If you are considering a trip from the United States to Europe, given the protection afforded to travelers under EC 261, you may want to select a European airline that will have to follow this rule in both directions across the Atlantic.
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