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Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Summer is up, tourism is recovering from pandemic years, and people are stuck at chaotic airports. Here are your rights if something goes wrong.

Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Strikes, a shortage of staff and an excess of travellers after the coronavirus pandemic are just two of the ingredients behind the chaos in many European airports ahead of the main summer holidays.

As people are travelling again, visiting friends and family and taking the holidays that were postponed several times, they have had to face long queues, delays, and even flight cancellations.

The good news is that the European Union has strict regulations protecting consumers, including those buying plane tickets.

If you have faced issues with your flight, here are your rights and how to get compensation, according to EU legislation.

First things first: is my trip covered by the EU legislation?

EU air passenger rights apply to you if your flight is within the EU or Schengen zone, if it arrives in the EU/Schengen zone from outside the bloc and is operated by an EU-based airline, or if it departs from the EU/ Schengen zone.

Additionally, the EU rights apply only if you have not already received benefits (including compensation, re-routing, and assistance from the airline) for this journey under the law of a non-EU country.

What if my flight is from the UK to an EU country?

Since January 1st 2021, the bloc’s rules and rights do not apply to cancellations or delays to flights from the UK to the EU or to those passengers denied boarding on these flights if the flight was operated by a non-EU carrier.

However, according to the rules, if your flight arrives in the European Union and is operated by an EU airline, or if you are flying to the UK from an EU country, then you are entitled to the same rights.

READ ALSO: LATEST: Italy scraps all Covid entry rules for travellers

The European Union comprises the 27 EU countries plus the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin as well as the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands (but not the Faroe Islands). The rules also apply to flights to and from Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

What about return flights?

The EU says: “The outbound and return flights are always considered as two separate flights, even if they were booked as part of one reservation.”

It’s not uncommon to book with one airline and then the flight to be operated by a different carrier, sometimes a partner line. In this case, all compensation requests should be directed to the operator, rather than the company you booked with.

The EU says: “In case of any difficulties only the airline which operates the flight can be held responsible.”

This would affect whether you are entitled to compensation if you booked with an EU-based carrier but the flight was actually operated by a non-EU carrier.

What happens if my flight is cancelled?

In case of cancellation, you have the right to choose between getting your money back, getting the next available flight, or changing the booking completely for a later date. You are also entitled to assistance free of charge, including refreshments, food, accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), transport, and communication (two telephone calls, for example). This is regardless of the reasons for cancellation.

If you were informed of the cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date, you also have a right to compensation, except if the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances” (see below for explanation of “extraordinary circumstances”.

The table below from the Europa.eu website shows the amount of compensation you are entitled to in the case of cancellations within 14 days of departure.

Often the airlines might not make this clear to you

What if my flight was delayed?

Your rights and compensation will depend on the duration of the delay and the distance of the flight.

If an airline expects that your flight will be delayed beyond the scheduled departure time, you are entitled to meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time. It starts at two hours for shorter flights (distance of 1,500 km or less), three hours or more for longer flights and a delay of four hours for all other flights.

You should make yourself known to the airline so that they can provide you with the necessary vouchers and information.

If you arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

READ ALSO: Fixed machine ‘will cut wait time for Swedish passports’

The compensation will be €250 for short flights, €400 for longer flights and up to €600 for flights covering more than 3,500 kilometres.

What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?

It can get tricky to understand your rights when most of the things you are entitled to depend on whether or not the cancellations and delays were due to extraordinary circumstances.

According to the EU, examples of events defined as extraordinary circumstances are “air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions and security risks”.

However, most technical problems which come to light during maintenance are not considered extraordinary circumstances, and staff shortages would also usually not be classed as extraordinary circumstances – but it remains to be seen if widespread shortages around Europe over the summer achieve this classification.

Still, the airline needs to prove that the circumstance caused the delay or cancellation and that delays or cancellations couldn’t have been avoided “even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

Strikes?”

Workers’ strikes – a pretty regular occurrence in certain countries (looking at you, France) – may be considered extraordinary circumstances”.

So passengers won’t normally be eligible for compensation.

The website flightright.com writes: “In this case (strikes) airlines are under no obligation to pay out compensation to customers. Strikes, whether they be carried out by the airport staff or the airline staff, fall under this category and as such passengers should not expect to have a valid claim.”

However there are some exceptions.

For example “if your flight does not fall within the immediate strike period, but is cancelled due to the impact of the strike, it is worth checking your entitlement to compensation,” explains flightright.com.

“For example: if all flights are taking off and landing on schedule again after the strike, but you are denied boarding, then there is a good chance that the airline will have given your seat to a passenger who was directly affected by the strike. This means that the airline would be denying you the right to board against your will, which could entitle you to compensation.”

READ ALSO: Germany to relax travel restrictions for summer

​​If the airline does not provide a satisfactory explanation, you can contact your national authority for further assistance.

My luggage was lost, damaged or delayed.

Unless the damage was caused by an inherent defect in the baggage itself, the airline is liable. You have the right to compensation up to approximately € 1,300.

“​​If you want to file a claim for lost or damaged luggage, you should do it in writing to the airline within 7 days, or within 21 days of receiving your luggage if it was delayed. There is no standard EU-wide form.”, the EU site adds.

What other rights do I have?

If you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked, you have the right to choose between reimbursement, going on the next flight or rebooking the journey at a later date. You are also entitled to compensation and assistance from the airline.

READ ALSO: ‘We will be understaffed this summer’ warn French airport unions

In case you are downgraded, you are entitled to reimbursement of a percentage of your ticket price, depending on flight distance, and reaching 75 per cent.

Where should I complain?

Your first point of contact should be the airline itself. However, if you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact your country’s European Consumer Centre for cross-border flights or a national consumer centre for domestic trips.

If you think you’re liable for compensation from your airline, you can file an official EU airline complaint form.

Other ways to claim compensation

Even if you are not entitled to compensation from the airline, there might be other ways to get refunds and money in case of flight cancellation and delays. 

Besides using private travel insurance, many credit and debit card companies and banks offer automatic travel insurance if you purchased a ticket with them. In some cases, you might receive cash payment for delays and cancellations even when they were due to “exceptional circumstances”.

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France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France has revealed its plans for new border checks of passengers arriving from the UK next year - including using iPads to take biometric data like fingerprints.

France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France plans to use tablet computer devices to register non-EU car passengers at land and sea borders – including its border with the UK – when the new EU border system EES becomes operational next year, a new document has revealed. 

In May 2023, countries of the Schengen area will introduce the new Entry & Exit System (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens at their external borders. The EES was created to tighten up border security and will ensure the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. 

You can read full details of how the system will work HERE.

The system will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. Data collected will include the person’s name, type of travel document, fingerprints and facial images, as well as the date and place of entry and exit. The information will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that will be re-set at each entry.

The system will come into effect around the EU, but there have been major concerns about the France-UK border due to both the high volume of traffic and the Le Touquet Treaty border arrangements that mean French officials work in British ports of Dover and Folkestone – both of which saw long queues this summer as travel resumed after the pandemic. 

A document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

In the responses to the EU questionnaire, French authorities vowed they would be ready, saying simply Oui, La France sera prête (yes, France will be ready).

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

Test runs of the new system will begin at French border posts at the end of this year, they added.

However despite the vow that the new system will be ready on time to deal with thousands  of passengers each day authorities admitted “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers.”

French authorities admitted they are concerned about queues and backlogs at border crossings.

“The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continue with each border post manager to make progress on this point,” they told the EU.

This same concern was expressed by the CEO of the Port of Dover, Doug Bannister earlier this month when he told The Local he was concerned the time it takes to check each vehicle under EES could jump for around one and half minutes currently to 10 minutes.

Tablets to be used at land and sea borders

The way checks would be carried out for passengers at France’s sea borders with the UK has been a major concern especially at the Dover-Calais crossing, the busiest car route between the UK and continental Europe, with 8.6 million passengers passing through in 2019. 

Bannister, told The Local that first-time registration at Dover was the most concerning part of the new process, as it would require taking four fingerprints and facial images “at the border in front of an immigration officer”. 

Bannister said the current process was “designed around an airport” but this would not suit “a busy ferry terminal”. He demanded a system be introduced whereby registrations are carried out without passengers needing to leave the car.

French authorities’ response to the EU questionnaire has revealed they plan to use tablets, such as iPads to register car passengers’ details under EES.

The responses by French authorities to the EU questionnaire seem to clarify that agents will use tablets to register passengers directly in their cars under the “close supervision” of border guards, who will validate the biometric data on the spot. 

France will set up “‘mobile’ registration solutions (tablets) to record the biographical and biometric data of travellers eligible for the EES directly on board vehicles,” the document revealed.

People getting off buses will instead be able to use self-service kiosks similar to those set up at airports.

Airports

For non-EU visitors arriving by plane, France will set up self-service kiosks “supervised remotely via video by a border guard”.

Here, third-country nationals will be able to pre-register their biometric data and personal information, and complete the entry questionnaire. They will then be directed to the booth for verification of the data with the border guard. 

According to the document, France plans to maintain the eligibility for certain third-country nationals to go through automated ‘Parafe’ checks for subsequent entries and exits. E-gates are currently available for the citizens of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand the United Kingdom and Singapore (as well as EU citizens).

Doubts on gradual introduction

To facilitate the process, the European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months. 

Dover had also favoured some kind of transition period to allow the port to get used to the new system. But the French appear to have rejected this idea. 

They described the option of “progressive” introduction as “not satisfactory”, because it would require other adaptations of the system. 

France has called for “flexibility” to mitigate the impact of EES in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, French authorities called for the possibility of not creating EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later. 

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” the document says.

Responding to the questions, French authorities also said they intend to seek the support of Frontex, the EU border agency, in a more general context than the the entry in operation of the EES, in view of the 2024 Olympics. 

Non-EU residents in France

EES applies only to people entering the EU as tourists or making short visits – it does not apply to non-EU nationals who live in an EU country with a residency card such as a carte de séjour or a visa.

You can read full details on the system for residents HERE.

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