Want Better Consumer Protections? Fly with a European Airline

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about “buying American.” In fact, I’ll go out of my way to search for items made in the USA and will even pay more for American made products.


 
But when it comes to buying airfare to foreign destinations, I think twice. Most people don’t realize that when you fly on a European-based airline, even if you actually buy the ticket on a U.S. carrier such as Delta, American, or United (through a “code share” arrangement), as long as the flight is operated by a European airline, your trip comes with consumer protections that you don’t get if you fly on a U.S.-registered aircraft.
 
That’s because the European Union several years ago issued regulations providing cash compensation for delayed or canceled flights, along with other protections, and they benefit not just Europeans but anyone flying on a European-owned aircraft.
 
It’s called EC Regulation No 261/2004.

If your flight is cancelled fewer than 14 days before departure, or if it is delayed three hours or more, and the delay or cancellation was within the airline’s “reasonable” control, you can receive 250 euros for flights of up to 1,500 km ( 932 miles); 400 euros for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km (2175 miles); and 600 euros for all other flights. A euro at time of writing is worth $1.09.

The same compensation applies if you are involuntarily bumped (denied boarding) from a flight operated by a European-registered airline (and again, it doesn’t matter if you bought the ticket from a U.S.-based airline).

What even some seasoned travelers who have heard about EU 261 may not realize is that the rule has been amended to include not just travel from Europe, but travel on any European-operated aircraft from the U.S. as well. And it also applies not just to travel to or from Europe but, say, on a flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti on Air France, or on Norwegian from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to Boston or New York. As long as you’re scheduled to fly via a European-based airline, no matter what airline you bought your ticket on, you’re covered.
 
In addition, you’re guaranteed the following:
 

  • Meals and refreshments vouchers in reasonable relation to the waiting time, provided it won’t further delay departure of the flight
  • Two telephone calls, telex or fax messages or e-mails
  • Hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and hotel (if you’re offered a flight the next day)


Most airlines have information about how to make a claim on their websites. (For example, British Airways can be reached at, British Airways Customer Relations, EU Compensation Claims, PO Box 1126, Uxbridge. UB8 9XS, United Kingdom). Or, if you find the process daunting, several companies will make the claim for you and follow through until resolution. These include Refund.me, Airhelp.com,  and euclaim.co.uk, all of which take a percentage of whatever funds you collect.