Travel tips if you’re flying this summer

Just thinking about the plight (and not flight as it transpired) of Doctor David Dao in April when he was forced off a United Airlines plane. Airlines routinely need to ‘bump’ passengers to accommodate crew and usually offer compensation. In this case the passenger refused and was dragged off (others volunteered). It does beg the question though, what are your rights if you are a victim of cancellation, delay or overbooking?

Well it seems that our rights as passengers from a European airline in Europe, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are pretty clear. According to the DGCCRF (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des frauds) the law is tightening up and making all travel arrangements like booking, prices and dispute resolution more transparent and standardised.

1. Price comparison – transparency
With effect from 1st July this year, you will be entitled to price comparison for all modes of transport. There will be a common price display from the beginning of the booking process, clearly indicating any changes to price matched with online comparators.

It will be much clearer to see the fees/charges that travel agencies and airlines must reimburse if the trip does not take place (whether the trip is canceled by the service provider or the passenger cancels it).

When you are booking, always check the baggage rules. Fees are sometimes charged for checked baggage; they must be indicated at the beginning of the booking process. Check the size and the weight of the luggage, (no sign of this being standardised – so check your airline rules) and note certain objects or products are forbidden in hand and hold luggage. See here for hand baggage rules in Europe.

2. List of dangerous airlines

The name of the airline must be communicated to the passenger in advance. It probably would not apply when flying within the European Union but it is useful to know for further afield travel that there is a list of companies found to be dangerous and that are subject to a ban or restriction on operations within the European Union. You can check out the list of these companies online.

3. During the trip – from when you leave to start your journey.

Travel to the airport at least 1 hour before the departure of an inland flight, 2 to 3 hours before the departure of a long-haul flight. It is your responsibility to be there on time and comply with formalities prior to the flight, which can be time consuming.

The registration procedures vary by company with online registration gaining popularity and also self-service kiosks at the airport. You can still find plenty of travel agents who will arrange everything for you.

4. In case of problems arising the following points are helpful:

Refusal to board/’bumping’: In the event of being asked to give up your seat, airlines are obliged to seek out volunteers who agree to waive their reservation in exchange for certain services. You will be are entitled to compensation (between €250 and €600) depending on the distance of the flight and the delays incurred before the re-routing.

The airline must also provide the necessary assistance: refreshments, catering, telephone, hotel for the night, transportation from the airport to accommodation, etc.

Delays: In all cases, the airline is obliged to offer you the choice between reimbursement of your ticket within 7 days OR rerouting by another flight to your final destination under comparable conditions. If you opt for a re-routing, the airline must pay for all of your hotel and catering costs until you arrive at your final destination. You also have the right to two phone calls. However, if you choose to take reimbursement of your airfare, the airline is then released from its obligation to pay for your hotel and catering costs.

Finally, in both cases, the airline is required to pay you a lump sum compensation of:

Flights less than 1500 km: €250 (€125 if the delay does not exceed 2 hours)
Flights from 1500 to 3500 km: €400 (€200 if the delay does not exceed 3h)
Flights over 3500 km: €600 (€300 if the delay does not exceed 4h)

Compensation is not due in 3 situations:
1. If you were informed two weeks before the departure time
2. In the case of a shorter period, if a seat is offered to you on another flight at a time close to the time originally scheduled for both departure and arrival
3. In the event of extraordinary circumstances (weather, safety risks, strikes, etc.).

It is the responsibility of the operating air carrier to prove that it has informed passengers of the cancellation of a flight and the time limit within which it has done so.

NB – by purchasing a ticket with certain credit cards (Visa Premier, Gold Mastercard, etc.), the traveler is entitled to a conditional cancellation insurance.

Late: Except in extraordinary circumstances (weather, safety risks, strikes, etc.), the passenger who is delayed by more than 3 hours has the same rights as in the event of cancellation.

Right to assistance: The airline must provide the necessary assistance (refreshments, catering, telephone, hotel for the night, transport from the airport to the accommodation, etc.) as soon as the delay at the start of a flight reaches:

Two hours or more for flights of 1500 km or less
Three hours or more for flights of more than 1500 km up to 3500 km
Four hours or more for other flights of more than 3500 km.

If the delay in departure is at least 5 hours, and only if you renounce your journey, you are entitled to be reimbursed the air ticket and, if necessary, to take a return flight to your initial point of departure (in the case of a flight departing from a connecting port of call.

Baggage: In the event of loss, damage to the luggage or delay, compensation can amount up to about €1,330. For damage the claim must be made within seven days of receipt of the luggage. For late receipt, this period is 21 days maximum. If you have had to buy basic necessities (hygiene products, underwear, etc.) you can claim the refund from the airline upon presentation of the invoices.

For a loss of luggage, the claim for the initial delay must be made within 21 days. A declaration of loss must be made as soon as possible at the end of the 21-day period, the baggage being deemed to be lost. Specific indemnity limits apply unless you pay a supplement and make a special declaration of interest.

However, the liability of the airlines is not incurred if they have taken all reasonable measures to avoid damage or to avoid delays in delivery of the baggage, or if the deterioration or loss of the baggage results from the nature or the defect of the baggage.

5. People with disabilities
People with disabilities and /or reduced mobility are protected from discrimination during the booking and at the time of boarding. They are entitled to assistance at airports (on departure, transit and arrival) and on board airplanes. In order to facilitate this assistance, it is recommended that you indicate your needs in advance.

6. In case of disputes
Initially, an “amicable” approach is preferred by writing to the airline (keep a copy of your complaint). In the case of claims for compensation and/or the right to assistance, it is also possible to submit a complaint directly to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), the only competent authority to sanction the operator.

In all cases, you can refer the matter to the Ombudsman for Tourism Travel (MTV).

For other advice in English about travelling in France and a list of all the airports with practical information see the Angloinfo Riviera How To pages.