Compensation for delays, sure, but what if they rebook you ahead of schedule?

Tracy Stewart, March 20, 2009
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I had a friend who, while on a trip to Europe, was notified that his return flight was canceled and that he had been re booked on a flight a day earlier.  He had pre existing reservations and had to forfeit a deposit as he changed his plans to accommodate the new return flight.  Is the airline responsible for this lost deposit?

    A. According to European Commission Transport laws:

    1. In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers
    concerned shall:
    (a) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accord-
    ance with Article 8; and
    (b) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accord-
    ance with Article 9(1)(a) and 9(2), as well as, in event of re-
    routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of
    the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it
    was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified
    in Article 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c); and
    (c) have the right to compensation by the operating air carrier
    in accordance with Article 7, unless:
    (i) they are informed of the cancellation at least two
    weeks before the scheduled time of departure; or
    (ii) they are informed of the cancellation between two
    weeks and seven days before the scheduled time of
    departure and are offered re-routing, allowing them to
    depart no more than two hours before the scheduled
    time of departure and to reach their final destination
    less than four hours after the scheduled time of arrival;
    or


    (iii) they are informed of the cancellation less than seven
    days before the scheduled time of departure and are
    offered re-routing, allowing them to depart no more
    than one hour before the scheduled time of departure
    and to reach their final destination less than two hours
    after the scheduled time of arrival.

    2. When passengers are informed of the cancellation, an
    explanation shall be given concerning possible alternative trans-
    port.
    3. An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay
    compensation in accordance with Article 7, if it can prove that
    the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances
    which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable
    measures had been taken.
    4. The burden of proof concerning the questions as to
    whether and when the passenger has been informed of the
    cancellation of the flight shall rest with the operating air
    carrier.

    We're not quite sure when the airline notified your friend, but this seems to suggest a 2 hour cap on early rerouting. So, yes, it would have been within your friend's rights to demand a reroute on the scheduled day of departure. In regards to compensation, the language is a bit vague. While there's plenty on delays, they make no specific mention of departures ahead of schedule in terms of compensation:

    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 1 500 kilometres or less;
    (b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than
    1 500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1 500
    and 3 500 kilometres;
    (c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).
    In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destina-
    tion at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delay
    the passenger's arrival after the scheduled time.
    2. When passengers are offered re-routing to their final
    destination on an alternative flight pursuant to Article 8, the
    arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival
    time of the flight originally booked
    (a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1 500 kilometres
    or less; or
    (b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of
    more than 1 500 kilometres and for all other flights
    between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometres; or
    (c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a)
    or (b),
    the operating air carrier may reduce the compensation
    provided for in paragraph 1 by 50 %.
    3. The compensation referred to in paragraph 1 shall be
    paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank
    cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in
    travel vouchers and/or other services.
    4. The distances given in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall be
    measured by the great circle route method.

    According to section 1, your friend could probably argue that they are entitled to anything from EUR250 - EUR600, depending on mileage, although section 2 only mentions exceeding flight schedules, not preceeding them.

    As tricky as this particular case is, European law does offer greater passenger protection than our own. Even passengers traveling on an American carrier departing from Europe are entitled to compensation under their laws, in the event of cancellation or delay. Exactly how much? More on this in the blog.

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