Guest Post: Educating passengers on their rights when faced with travel chaos

Guest Post: Educating passengers on their rights when faced with travel chaos

As UK and Europe winds down on a summer laced with chaos and disruption, Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, shares the ins and outs of air passenger rights

The United Kingdom continues to rank poorly among European countries as one of the most delayed countries for flight departures. With ongoing labour disputes, strikes and technical outages across UK airports, air passengers have undoubtedly experienced travel disruptions in recent months. With that in mind, the industry has a responsibility to ensure that passengers are able to fairly execute their rights. As travellers prepare for their trips, airlines in particular, must take extra care to abide by the Air Passenger Rights (APR) regulations. 

Guidelines surrounding APR 

In the UK alone, over 6 million UK passengers faced disruptions in June and July this year, with 43% of air travellers suffering delays or cancellations.  In the UK, the UK261 outlines what airlines owe travellers in the event of cancellation or delay, incorporating much of the European Union’s APR regulations. The UK 261 regulation, currently under promulgation, sets out what passengers are entitled to when flights are delayed, cancelled, or overbooked. 

The legislation applies to any flights leaving or landing in the UK with a British airline. Passengers are eligible for compensation if their flights have been delayed by longer than three hours, been cancelled within less than two weeks of the departure date, or been denied boarding due to overbooking - all of which are deemed as the airline's fault. 

The UK government has also introduced the Aviation Passenger Charter, which aims to help passengers understand their rights and responsibilities when flying. This charter outlines the obligations and expectations that travellers have of their airline, travel agent, tour operator, and airport. Furthermore, it provides guidance on how passengers should be treated to ensure they receive the best service possible.

Principles of APR

Airlines have a responsibility to ensure that they comply with APR regulations. This is important for consumer protection and making sure that the aviation industry is compliant with the law. Airlines should give utmost priority to the needs of their customers, starting from when they purchase their tickets until they reach their final destination. APR may vary from country to country, but some basic rules are respected worldwide, such as:

Right to compensation for flight delays and cancellations:

Passengers are entitled to compensation if their flight is delayed or cancelled. Eligibility and amounts vary, depending on the circumstances, the length of the delay and the distance of the flight.

Right to reimbursement or re-routing:

If a flight is cancelled or a passenger is denied boarding, passengers usually have the right to choose between being reimbursed for the ticket or being re-routed to their destination at the earliest opportunity. It is important to state that the right to reimbursement does not exclude the right to compensation.

Right to assistance:

If a flight is delayed or cancelled, passengers are entitled to food, drinks, and accommodation as necessary, as well as access to communication facilities, such as phone and email.

Right to information:

Passengers have the right to receive information about their flight, including the reason for any delays or cancellations, and the estimated time of departure.

Right to special assistance:

Passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility have the right to special assistance throughout their journey, including during boarding and disembarking, as well as during the flight itself.

In the UK, third parties, such as APR advocates, are essential to inform travellers of their rights and assist them in cases where their rights are infringed by airlines. APR advocates play a key role in bridging the gap between airline regulations and protecting the rights of passengers when faced with various travel disruptions. They are mandated to protect, educate, and provide a source of trustworthy information on APR to consumers. 

Future of APR

The recent UK air traffic control outage is a notable example of the reasons why passengers need to better understand their rights when travelling. In this case, airlines had the legal duty to accommodate, feed and fly passengers whose flights had been cancelled or severely disrupted, but compensation was not due because the fault was beyond their control.

With airlines demanding a compensation reform, IATA Director General Willie Walsh stated that the UK needs to reconsider the way passenger compensation is dealt with. The APR system needs to be rebalanced with effective incentives to ensure that the parties who are responsible for the disruptions bear the costs. 

Whilst the current laws are crucial for travel confidence, other industry players, such as airports and air traffic control agencies, need to begin contributing to compensation schemes. Not only will this start bringing equality across the entire air travel ecosystem, but it will also ensure that passengers are eligible for compensation in all cases in the future.