Delays: are European passengers overcompensated?

The storm that the European airports are going through leads the professionals of the sector to want to reconsider the European regulation on passenger compensation.

European passengers rather well compensated so far

The European regulation applying to the compensation of passengers in case of delayed flights was one of the most protective for passengers compared to what exists outside our borders (or even does not exist…).

Moreover, to be precise, it does not only apply to European passengers but, to put it simply, to any passenger:

  • from an airport located in the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland, regardless of the nationality of the company and regardless of their final destination,
  • from an airport located in a non-EU country, if the flight is operated by a European Union airline to an airport located in the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland, unless the passenger receives benefits or compensation and assistance in the country of origin

The EC 261 regulation, as it is called, can therefore be applied to foreign passengers travelling in Europe.

It provides for lump sum compensation:

  • 250€ per ticket for flights less than 1500 km
  • 400€ for other flights within the EU.
  • 600€ for flights departing or arriving outside the EU and covering more than 3500km

Until now, the system worked well and was often envied by travelers from other countries, such as the United States, but the wave of delays experienced by European airports this summer has changed the situation.

In view of the number of passengers to be compensated and the amount of compensation, some industry professionals are calling for an overhaul of the compensation system.

Towards the end of lump sum compensation?

The question raised by some airlines is not without interest! Indeed, as the director general of the lobby Airlines for Europe (A4E) says: “It is not normal to pay 50 euros for a ticket and receive 300 euros of compensation”.

Let’s face it, there is a certain logic in this observation.

The model to follow would be the United Kingdom, which has implemented tiered compensation based on the price of the ticket.

A change that finally makes sense and should not even be discussed?

At TravelGuys we do not agree.

EC261 compensation should not be reduced

We believe that there is no reason to change the current system or, if a tiered compensation system were to be implemented, that the compensation currently provided should be the floor for the cheapest tickets! And here’s why.

1°) It is the airlines that decide on the price of the ticket. To take the example cited, there is no obligation to sell tickets at 60 euros or less. Moreover, everyone has realized that selling off the price of tickets is no longer possible in the current economic and environmental context.

2°) If the amount of the compensation was proportional to the price of the ticket, this would encourage the airlines offering the lowest fares to do as little as possible to ensure that their customers’ journey goes as smoothly as possible. The purpose of the indemnity is to compensate the passenger on the one hand, but also to motivate the airline to make every effort to avoid the delay when it has the means.

3°) Because in case of delay the compensation does not cover, in our opinion, only the ticket price. And it is on this point that we will dwell.

In case of delay the passenger will arrive at destination later or will be fully refunded. So he will a priori make his trip, even with a delay, so it is not really a question of refunding the ticket but of compensating an inconvenience. That’s why the EC261 takes into account the distance and not the fare.

Even if the airline has to pay a certain number of costs related to the delay, this does not always make up for the damage suffered by the passenger as a result of the delay.

If he leaves for a weekend, the time spent on site may be reduced to a minimum. He may arrive late for some event (dinner, wedding, business meeting, any other event requiring a reservation). He also suffers moral prejudice because of the discomfort and uncertainty associated with the situation he has experienced.

There is therefore a loss of convenience (sometimes a definitive missed opportunity) and a moral loss.

This is what the EC261 compensates for and in some cases it may even be considered as not enough.

Real value vs. use value

Furthermore, if the airlines were acting in good faith, they would remember the Montreal Convention, which governs and limits the compensation due in case of delayed or lost baggage.

The said convention limits the liability of the airlines in that the maximum value of the compensation cannot exceed a certain amount, regardless of the actual value of the contents of the lost baggage.

It is an implicit recognition that a gap may exist between the face value of a thing (the replacement value for the passenger) and its use value (taking into account its age).

For an airplane ticket it is the same thing: the use value of the trip can be largely superior to the price of the ticket except that, this time, the mechanism works in a way that does not suit the airlines.

Bottom line

In view of the increasing number of delays, the European airlines want to obtain a reduction in the compensation due to passengers, especially for low-cost tickets.

With such a reasoning they will have many reasons not to make too much effort to limit the inconvenience for the passengers and forget that the compensation is not intended to refund all or part of the ticket price.

Moreover, it would be illogical for the passenger to pay for the disorganization of the industry.

Photo : delayed flight by Nuno Andre via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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