• Financial compensation for late flights

    When flights are/were delayed more than three hours passengers can often claim financial compensation, even years afterwards.

    The European Union has long had rules for a possible financial compensation when a flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late. According to Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004

    Article 7 : Right to compensation

    1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall receive compensation amounting to:
    (a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less;
    (b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres;
    (c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

    In a recent ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that passengers who were delayed by more than three hours could claim this compensation afterwards (even some years afterwards). There were also clarifications of the circumstances under which the airline could claim it was not their fault because of exceptional circumstances.

    One interesting case could be the morning easyJet flight yesterday, 27 June, from Geneva to Berlin. Because of their spare Geneva-based aircraft having been sent elsewhere, easyJet Switzerland had to borrow a UK aircraft to fly the route in reverse: Berlin to Geneva on time, Geneva to Berlin over three hours late.

    In principle, this delay would allow the passengers to Berlin to clain 250 Euros of compensation. However, I am not 100% certain that the ruling, which applies to flights departing from an EU airport, or an EU airline where the flight is landing at an EU airport, is valid for Switzerland.

    The ruling has been unsuccessfully challenged by, amongst others, easyJet. It does raise the spectre of large payouts by the airlines. However, unsurprisingly, for individuals trying to make the claims, much determination may be required. This is particularly true of the low-cost airlines, who are working on tight margins.

    Should one make a justifiable claim? There is probably a fairness judgement for each individual to make. In the opinion of one expert (Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com)

    "You have a legal right to make a compensation claim for flight delays and cancellations – yet it's worth being aware that if this becomes mainstream, the added cost to airlines could cause them financial trouble and may lead them to increase future flight prices for everyone.


    I'm not saying this to put you off, yet it's worth examining whether you feel the compensation is right and fair. If you bought a flight and were seriously delayed and inconvenienced – well, we're a consumer website, so we say go for it.

    Yet as the payout is irrelevant to the cost of the flight – there will be some who paid £20 for a cheap flight, were delayed a few hours that didn't really bother them and are entitled to £339 compensation for it. That could really cripple a budget airline's pricing structure. For cheaper flights especially, the rules seem weighted against airlines but at the end of the day, it's up to you whether or not to go for it.

    So were any of the passengers on the delayed Geneva to Berlin flight, which got to Berlin in the early afternoon, really inconvenienced? Probably not. However, when easyJet Switzerland do the same reversal procedure for the final daily London to Gatwick service, meaning that the arrival at Gatwick is in the early hours of the morning, it is perhaps a different story. It could also be a different story when flights back to Geneva are so late that they are diverted to Lyon, giving the passengers a coach ride from Lyon to Geneva in the middle of the night.

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