International passenger carriage is governed by two international legal frameworks. One is the European Regulation EC 261/2004, which governs cases of cancellations, delays and overbooking on flights within its member States and on airlines from these member States. The other one is the Montreal Convention of 1999, which broadly governs the carriage of passengers and is applied in addition to European Union Regulation EC 261/2004, as well as being the main legal framework for the remaining 106 countries subscribing the Convention.
If a passenger suffers any type of incident, these legal frameworks provide for the possibility of compensation and/or indemnities by the airlines to cover possible damages caused to the passenger, provided certain conditions are met. Both the requirements and the potential compensation and/or indemnities may vary in both cases.
According to European Regulation EC 261/2004, passengers have several rights when a flight is affected by different types of incidents: the right to information, the right to care, the right to a potential refund or reallocation to another flight, or possible financial compensation.
European Regulation EC 261/2004 and case law from the European Court of Justice with regard to this Regulation point out that passengers are entitled to financial compensation when the following conditions occur simultaneously:
Extraordinary circumstances are, for example, adverse meteorological conditions, strikes, political instability or problems at the airport.
If the requirements mentioned above are met, giving passengers a right to compensation, the Regulation establishes fixed, automatic financial compensation depending on the distance covered by the flight:
European Regulation EC 261/2004 establishes that the air carrier operating a flight that is cancelled, affected by a delay of more than two hours or for which a passenger's boarding has been denied, shall provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with the European Regulation, as well as the contact details of the body designated for ensuring compliance with the regulation in the country where they are.
European Regulation EC 261/2004 lays down the right to reimbursement or re-routing. The right to reimbursement considers that, if there is a cancellation or a delay of at least five hours and the passenger decides not to take alternative transport, he/she shall be entitled to reimbursement within seven days of the full cost of the ticket at the price at which it was bought, for any part of the journey not made. If the flight no longer serves any purpose, the passenger shall be entitled to reimbursement for any part of the journey already made. Passengers shall be offered a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity, where appropriate.
The right to alternative transport establishes that passengers are entitled to re-routing to their final destination under comparable transport conditions at the earliest opportunity, or at a later date at the passenger's convenience, subject to availability of seats.
European Regulation EC 261/2004 establishes that in the event of cancellation, delay of at least 2 hours for all flights up to 1,500 km, at least 3 hours for intra-Community flights of more than 1,500 km or extra-Community flights of between 1,500 km and 3,500 km, or at least 4 hours for other flights of more than 3,500 km, passengers are entitled to care. This consists of meals and refreshments in a reasonable proportion to the waiting time and two telephone calls, telex, fax messages or e-mails. If the waiting time involves an overnight stay of one or more nights, or if a longer stay than that intended by the passenger is necessary, passengers shall be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.
The Montreal Convention of 1999 establishes that passengers may be entitled to financial compensation when the following circumstances are met:
In these circumstances, the airline is obliged to pay indemnity for damages actually caused to passengers as a result of the incident.Download Montreal Convention of 1999