Over the Bank Holiday weekend, people flying with British Airways (BA) found themselves in a nightmare situation.
A ‘power surge’ caused all the BA computers to shut down, bringing chaos to airports around the world as BA was unable to issue boarding passes, check in baggage, or manoeuvre its aircraft into their assigned take-off and landing slots.
This meant that many passengers were stranded unable to return home – but the real chaos was at Heathrow and Gatwick as the school half term and bank holiday rush was at its height.
So, what could these poor people do? What compensation are they entitled to?
Well there is something called European Regulation 261/2004 which emanated from Brussels and is designed to provide compensation to passengers for delayed and cancelled flights in certain circumstances.
The first thing that should be ascertained is whether or not the delay or cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances (i.e. something which was outside the airlines control). Usually this would be extreme weather conditions or industrial action. If it was an extraordinary circumstance then the passengers would have to look to their travel insurance policy to see what they might be able to claim.
Most travel policies will provide cover to ‘Travel Delay’ or ‘Trip Disruption’ – this would normally provide a limited benefit (usually £20 to £30 per 12 hours delay) to allow you to purchase refreshments. Should the delay last for more than 12 or 24 hours, then the travel policy will usually reimburse you for unrecoverable costs should you decide to abandon your travel plans.
Postcard Travel Insurance will pay the benefit after six hours delay and allow you to cancel if the delay lasts 12 hours or more.
So, was this an extraordinary event? The general consensus is that this was not something BA could not control. The rumours are that staff cuts and economy drives had left their IT in a weakened position and that their back up system was inadequate. Therefore, this was not an extraordinary event and so Regulation 261/2004 kicks in.
When is a flight legally classified as delayed? – usually if take-off happens two hours or more after the scheduled departure time.
What do passengers get? – they can expect to be offered free meals and refreshments, free telephone calls or send two faxes or e-mails to inform friends and family of the delay.
What if the delay is longer than two hours? – if the delay lasts five hours or more, then the passenger can ask for the reimbursement of their full ticket price (provided they do this within seven days), regardless of the flight distance.
The thing to bear in mind here is that Regulation 261/2004 only applies if you are flying with an EU company or departing from an EU airport.
If you are travelling to a non-EU country the airline must refund your ticket or try to provide an alternative flight, it does not have to provide refreshments. So once again travel insurance would step in.
What happens if the airline cancels the flight? – airline companies have to offer a choice of either a refund of the ticket or an alternative flight. They will also have to pay some compensation.
What is BA doing? – At the moment BA passengers are being offered a refund all unused parts of the ticket, or they are being offered alternative flights.
What compensation is available? – Regulation 261/2004 sets out the rules for compensation, which depends on the flight distance and the length of delay. All compensation is calculated in Euros.
These amounts are reduced by 50% if BA can offer you an alternative flight route to your final destination with a new scheduled arrival time that doesn’t exceed the original scheduled arrival time by:
If BA is unable to replace your flight, this is what you can claim for:
One way you can find out if your particular British Airways flight qualifies for compensation is by using a free tool such as refundme’s flight compensation calculator .
When is compensation not available? – compensation is not available if:
Now this is all very well, there are lots of articles and blogs out there telling people how to claim under EU regulations, but that only explains the flight element.
What about people who booked hotels and villas? What can they do?
Those who booked a package holiday (i.e. they booked their flights and accommodation through a tour operator) should be compensated by the tour operator under the Package Travel Regulations. This also puts the onus on the Tour Operator to provide bed and breakfast accommodation for those who are stranded abroad.
But in today’s modern world most people who booked with BA will probably have ‘dynamically packaged’ their holiday. In other words, they have booked their flights and accommodation separately.
These travellers often find themselves abandoned in cases such as this. Putting the delayed flight element to one side (we have already stated that travel insurance policies will generally pay for cancellation of the trip for delays of between 12 and 24 hours) what happens when the airline cancels the flight and there is no delay?
Travel insurance policies only provide cancellation for ‘specified’ reasons, such as death, injury or illness – insurers will argue that if the trip is cancelled by the tour operator or airline then it is up to them to provide compensation. However, we have already established that the ‘dynamic packager’ will only receive compensation from the airline. The hotel or villa is still there awaiting his arrival – the problem is he can’t get there.
Postcard travel insurance will refund any element of the pre-booked trip that cannot be recovered from anywhere else should you have to cancel for any cause that is outside of your control.
And what about the ‘dynamic packager’ who is unable to return home as planned due to the flights being cancelled? Once again, they are ‘abandoned’ because they fall outside the regulations. Travel insurance policies, generally, do not cover the additional costs of accommodation and refreshments for cancelled flights.
Postcard travel insurance provides for bed and breakfast accommodation and the cost of replacement flights should your return home be delayed due to circumstances beyond your control. It also provides for the emergency replenishment of baby essentials and prescription medication should supplies run out because of the delay.
Whether travellers have dynamically packaged or not, those who are delayed in returning home will also face what are known as consequential losses. These could be the cost of additional car parking at the airport, additional kennel and cattery fees, and even the cost of replacement coach and rail tickets to get back home.
Most travel insurance policies do not cover these additional unforeseen costs.
Postcard travel insurance provides a contribution towards additional unforeseen costs should travellers be delayed on their return journey.