Airlines overbook their flights, so what are your rights if you get affected in Europe?
Footage of a man being dragged off a United Airlines flight caused shock and outrage around the world.
And just recently, passengers in the UK were asked to leave a flight: Two passengers of an Easyjet flight from London to Italy could not fly because of overbooking.
Overbooking is a common practice of airlines, because they know from experience that not all passengers who booked a ticket will show up for the flight – and it is perfectly legal.
But what rights do customers have if they are taken off an aircraft?
Airlines often fail to inform the passengers of their rights, which is what happened to the Easyjet customers mentioned above. Here we take a look at the passenger rights in the European Union.
How many flights will be overbooked?
Exact figures are difficult to come by because airlines do not disclose the figures, and overbookings are mainly based on experiences from the past.
Frequently it is scheduled flights which are overbooked, and holidaymakers are less affected.
What do the airlines do when overbooked?
If all passengers turn up for an overbooked flight, the airline must search for volunteers to “surrender their reservations in exchange for benefits”.
If volunteers are found, they are transferred to other flights. Depending on the duration of the involuntary stay and the distance of the flight, there are also cash payments.
The details are regulated by EU Regulation 261/2004
Where do rights European passengers apply?
In general, they apply to flights within EU member states, regardless of whether the airline comes from the EU or not.
They are also valid if the departure airport is outside the EU and the destination is in the EU and it is an airline based in Europe.
The same applies in the reverse direction, regardless of the airline. A list of the scope of application within the EU can be found here
When do passengers have the right to compensation?
If a flight is cancelled at short notice, or if there is no place on board despite the booking, a passenger is generally entitled to cash payments or compensation.
The same applies if the arrival of the pilot is delayed by three hours.
The amount of compensation depends on the flight – the longer the route, the higher the amount. Between 200 and 400 euros are available to the traveler, which must be demanded from the airline.
The couple from the UK, who wanted to fly to Italy for a few days, would have been entitled to a sum of 400 euros.
If the airline does not provide any reimbursement or does not react to a complaint, a claim can be pursued here
In the meantime, there are companies such as Flightright, who support customers and fight for compensation for unintentional cancellations and flight transfers. According to its own data, the company complains particularly often against low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
Do not worry about holiday flights
In general, holidaymakers are not overbooked, as the passengers usually appear to turn up for their flights. In the case of an overbooking, the computer system would announce days before the planned flight and inform the passengers of an alternative.